Opinion: FINAL-ly optional?
Published December 3, 2013
As the dreaded fall finals week approaches, Palo Alto High School students of all grades are preparing themselves for the potentially grade-determining tests. Unlike other Paly students, seniors have the extra tedious task of college applications. For that reason, seniors should have optional fall finals. Palo Alto Unified School District board member Melissa Baten Caswell suggested the idea at the most recent school board meeting as a “non-traditional way” to relieve stress.
Baten Caswell mentioned “considering whether it would be possible to allow seniors the option of their finals in the fall semester if they were above a certain grade point.”
Superintendent Kevin Skelly did not completely dismiss the idea.
“I’m comfortable at least encouraging that, but not mandating that teachers have that as a practice,” Skelly said in response. “They [teachers] need to have the ability to make that decision.”
There would be many benefits to seniors at Paly if their fall finals were optional. The largest gain would be valuable time to work on college applications.
Here is why seniors should be able to choose whether they want to take the fall final:
During the fall and early winter, seniors typically have an even larger workload than most other Paly students. Although taking finals is an essential skill that prepares students for college because it forces them to learn good study habits and culminate their knowledge, seniors already have three years of experience taking finals.
In mixed-grade classes, it may seem unfair to give only seniors the choice to not take the final, but eventually everyone will be a senior and have that privilege.
Despite the fact that some teachers try to lessen the burden of finals by offering policies that allow students to not take the final if they have an A in the class or do a project instead, if students are happy with a B+ they should not be required to take the test and have it potentially lower their grade. Projects can take just as much time as studying.
In rigorous classes, especially Advanced Placement classes, which many seniors take, it is hard to keep a solid grade, so many students go into the final with borderline grades. It is not uncommon for finals to determine grades in difficult classes. Seniors who are satisfied with their grades before the final should not have to compromise writing strong college applications for studying.
College applications are time-consuming and most deadlines happen to fall around the same time as finals since finals were moved before winter break. Although having finals before winter break has its perks, especially for underclassmen, seniors no longer have all of December to work on regular decision applications when they have finals to study for as well. Before the calendar change in 2012-13, they could study for finals in January — after applications were due.
With finals before winter break, many colleges notify students of their early acceptances right before finals week. Accepted or denied, seniors should not have to take a final right afterward, when they are either elated or dejected and not in the right mindset to take an important test.
Nowadays many seniors submit an increasing number of college applications, which can equate to multiple supplemental essays on top of their already lengthy Common Application. In 2000, only nine percent of students applied to seven or more colleges, whereas in 2011 that percentage skyrocketed to about 33 percent, according to a Time magazine article. As college admissions become more and more selective, seniors need higher quality applications to be accepted. More thoughtful essays take more time and having to study for finals takes away from that time.
For some seniors, studying for finals in hopes of raising their grade may be the most beneficial use of their time; however others would prefer to use that time to work on college applications. This should be a personal decision. Mandatory fall senior finals add an unnecessary stress and take away crucial time to work on college applications. They should be FINAL-ly optional.
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