Finals After Break? An Investigation


Oliver Chen, Co-Editor in Chief

Winter break: a time to relax, celebrate the holidays and spend time with family.

Yet for many, a once beloved respite from the academic year has turned into a prolonged period of stress over future final exams.

Ames High’s current practice of holding finals after break is an unpopular one. Polling conducted by The Web only confirms the sentiment behind the perennial moans and groans that have become synonymous with first semester finals, with 97 of 107 students surveyed preferring an earlier finals time.

“This year after finals, I felt super relieved and just relaxed. During winter break, I didn’t feel that because finals [were] looming off in the distance,” Junior Justin Kenny said, citing an inability to completely relax during his time off. Although Kenny studied a small amount over break, Kenny said he could have easily done without the extra time. “I think it’s better if I have winter break just to relax.”

Although generally popular, the preference for finals before break is not universal.

“If you manage to find time for it, I think you can still have fun during break while trying to study for finals…grade wise it’s helpful,” Junior Hannah Huang said, citing the extra study time as helpful for certain classes. In addition to prolonging stress, many students also cited forgetting material learned during first semester as an issue. “Everything’s still fresh, that’s how colleges do it, that’s the way I think it just should be,” Junior Steven Frana said.

“If you have a week or more in between, you lose all that information, plus you have to stress over break about finals.” This loss of information translates to lower academic performance, Junior Jenny Kim said. “I forget things I would have remembered if I took [the test] right after I learned it,” Kim said. “I think I’d do better if I took it before.”

So given popular sentiment, why are finals still held after break?

The answer lies in state policy regarding school start times. A state law passed in April 2015 prohibits schools from starting prior to August 23rd.

“The old law says you [had] to wait until September 1st, and you could write an exemption for that one to start before then,” Associate Principal Brian Carico said. “What was happening was that people were starting all the way back up in August 9th, I think one year in Waukee we even started the 7th of August.”

Carico said these early start times conflicted with the Iowa State fair, decreasing revenues and tourist activity. With then Governor Terry Branstad’s encouragement, the state legislature took action. The state also made the process for granting exemptions from the law more stringent, with desire for earlier semester tests no longer being considered a valid reason for exemption.

Then why not hold finals before break, and simply have a shorter first semester?

“That first semester if you do the final before is going to be shorted about three or four weeks of class time,” Carico said, citing semester long courses like economics, shop, and a litany of other classes which make this impossible for Ames and other schools. “An equal amount of days is what really drove a lot of schools to switch back and to go after break again. I know where I was at in Johnston, that’s what we had to do too because of the legislature’s choice.”

The administration has not turned a blind eye to problems associated with holding finals after break in the past however, moving finals to before break for the 2014-2015 school year.

The passage of the state law later that school year meant that change was short lived.

“As a school and as a district, I was very much in favor of being able to start when we want, and being able to finish the semester before break and start the new one right after break, but when the Iowa legislature passes a law like that, know you can’t go against that, and there’s no way to balance that schedule to make the 180 day compulsory attendance law,” Carico said. Carico also raised concerns about the impact of prolonged stress on student mental health.

“When you take a break, you should get a break – but if you have to work and continue to do all those things over break, it’s not as good a break, and especially in today’s world with kids, we pack so much into your day, we pack so many activities into what you do, you do need downtime. All the research is showing that sleep and downtime is what kids need the most. And here, we’re seeing that all that research doesn’t matter because of the Iowa state fair.”

“There’s frustration at least on my part, because I think the legislature dictating to a school when they should start due to the Iowa state fair, doesn’t take what’s the best interest of kids and education involved, but more on the monetary side and the revenue side of what that money brings into the state,” Carico said.

Carico encouraged students who would prefer an earlier finals time to write their representatives in the Iowa state legislature to change the law. “That’s our duty as citizens, if we feel something is not correct to do that. I’d strongly encourage you to do that.”