The topic of midterms and finals has sparked debate among both students and staff about whether the exams should be discontinued. Many Howard County residents have cited concerns over the mental health of students, while others have argued in favor of the tests. Ultimately, the greater question stands: what does the reinstatement of midterms and finals say about what the county learned from quarantine? The Board of Education made two decisions this year: to reinstate midterms and finals, and to drop the weight of both exams from 20% to 10%.
Alystica Woodworth, a senior at Atholton, created a petition to cancel midterms and finals in early October. Woodworth’s petition has garnered 2,641 votes out of the 5,000 vote goal, showing the general student body opinion on midterms and finals. Her stance on the tests is clear. “Over the four years I’ve been in high school,” she said, “I’ve learned that midterms and finals have not really been helpful. Not many people use them in the future.”
Woodworth further went on to mention that tests like midterms cater to a specific kind of student, leaving neurodivergent and mentally ill students to fend for themselves.
The arguments against the exams are shared by many students in the Atholton community, especially upperclassmen.
“I never took one in the first place, why now?” said Mari Pulido, a junior at Atholton, about finals and the stress that comes with them. “Junioritis has hit so hard, I feel like I’m about to go off to college.”
AJ Kutz, another eleventh grader, said: “A written exam is not always an accurate representation of how well students can grasp a concept, and the weight of a midterm and a final on our grade causes extreme stress to students who are looking to maintain a good GPA.”
This sentiment is echoed by Alayzia Kuria, another junior. “Midterms and tests aren’t accurate when testing a student’s knowledge of a topic. They test more on their memorization of material that they’ll definitely forget in the future.”
Arguments in favor of the exams, while not ignoring the issue of mental health, are more geared toward the future of most students in the county.
The Student Member of the Board, Peter Banyas, spoke about the future of Howard County students, and how midterms and finals influence it.
“I checked on this number three weeks ago, but 80% of our students end up going to a four-year university,” Banyas said, when asked about what influenced his vote in favor of the exams. “So most of those students will take a STEM course while they’re in college, and those courses might have exams that are worth over 50% of your grade. If those don’t exist in our school system, then we are sending tens of thousands of graduating students off without being prepared for that next step. That’s why making it 5% is a really valuable change for this year, to balance the stress of it versus having the preparation.”
Mrs. Carr-Spence, a math teacher at Atholton, expressed a similar opinion to Banyas. “It is our responsibility to prepare them for college and if we don’t give them [exams], they’re not prepared… It’s necessary, but on the positive end: our midterms and finals aren’t worth that many points. So it doesn’t affect their grades that much, but it’s necessary for them to retain all the information for a large test.”
On December 16, 2021, the Howard County Board of Education once again voted on keeping major exams in the wake of a COVID-19 outbreak (with 111 high school cases as of December 17). This has brought new results to the subject of midterms and finals. The Board decided to suspend midterms and weigh finals as 10% of a student’s grade. This is part of a greater discussion on whether schools may close for a short period of time to curb more infections. FInal decisions from the Board of Education will be made before Monday, December 20, 2021.
Despite new information, both sides of the debate can agree that mental health is the main concern about midterms and finals. No matter what the Board of Education decides on, the focus is on student wellbeing.
“In my conversations with students, I’ve heard a lot of different definitions of mental health,” Banyas elaborated, on the subject of mental health. “Some say it’s removing stress, some say it’s learning to cope with stress… Mental health doesn’t mean we get rid of the things that challenge us, it means we are able to overcome challenges.”