Fall Semester Exams Cancelled

Andrew Carrere ‘19

On August 25th, Strake Jesuit canceled its first school day for Hurricane Harvey. Then, as the rampant downpour flooded Houston roads and countless homes—many of our students and faculty—Strake Jesuit would end up canceling all school days until Monday, September 11th. As a result of multiple missed school weeks, both teachers and students lost many instructional days, causing the administration to cancel all semester exams.

The primary argument against canceling the semester exams is that there are many academic benefits that result from big cumulative exams. Strake Jesuit’s Assistant Principal for Academics, Mr. Norkus, commented on this, saying, “There’s proven research that these big moments of synthesis for courses result in positive academic outcomes. We believe in that and a lot of positive learning comes out of it. You also get a sense of where you are and what needs to get revisited in future years, so we knew that we would be missing that.”

However, while the school would be missing the academic benefits of semester exams, there were several big reasons why the administration decided to relieve students of these exams. Mr. Norkus articulated a few of the main reasons, saying, “We had 200-plus families and we had another half dozen faculty members that were affected by the storm. We gave preference to those folks as they work to get back on track.”

Mr. Norkus followed up with an example, stating, “I think you can imagine that family whose son was displaced; they might be living in a hotel or at a friend’s house and trying to get to school, while the material we cover during the year would be on the exam. We felt that would just be a difficult task for them. So that was really reason number one.”

“The other main reason was that we lost nine instructional days for Harvey. If you look at the four exam days plus Dead Day, we are gaining back five of those instructional days and that was one of the reasons department chairs really liked the idea,” Mr. Norkus added.

Given the academic gravity of canceling exams, Mr. Norkus and the Principal’s Staff had several meetings and discussions with department heads to get their input. “One of the big conversations that I had was with department chairs. That group is essential for being leaders within the school and within their departments, so we wanted to get their thoughts,” Mr. Norkus said.

Among those department chairs is Mr. Jamerlan, of the Science Department. Mr. Jamerlan explained that canceling the semester exams would be especially beneficial for AP teachers, saying, “[the cancellation of finals] eases a little bit of pressure, especially for AP teachers who have to cover so many topics and, having lost about two weeks during Harvey, really made it challenging for them to accelerate or condense the material and still make it robust enough to prepare the students for the AP tests.”

Mr. Jamerlan also provided some insight into what no finals could mean for the students in the Strake Jesuit community. “The good news is, as a student, you don’t have to worry about a comprehensive test that covers a very short and fast-paced semester. That’s a really good thing because it eases the pressure. I guess the downside of it is that you now have to make sure that your performance in the pre-final assessments such as tests, labs, and homework has to be really good and on point because there is no way to offset that with an exam,” he said.