New test postponement rule alters test-taking culture

While scanning the syllabi for their new courses on the first day of school, Harvard-Westlake (HW) Middle School students learned of a new assessment postponement rule. Students can now postpone one assessment in each class per semester. This amounts to five assessments postponed per semester – one for each academic class.

This rule is a major shift from the past several years in how the school has dealt with stress as it relates to assessments. Previously, students could postpone one test if they were scheduled to take three tests on a single day. However, it was often unclear to both students and teachers as to what qualified as a “test” and if other major assignments, like essays and more heavily-weighted quizzes, counted towards the three tests.

“I think that the old rule was too vague, and there was a lot of confusion between teachers and students. You could have two tests and a quiz but couldn’t change anything, whereas with this new rule, it is all in your hands,” Grace Hudson ‘23 said.

This rule also allows students to postpone an assessment for any reason, regardless of the number of assessments scheduled on a particular day. If a student is busy the day before a test or simply feels unready to take a test, then they have the opportunity to take it at a later date.

Still, the new postponement rule seems to create some stress among students. Of the Middle School students surveyed, about 63% are worried that they will use one of their postponements too early on in the semester and need more later.

“I think that many HW students are now scared that they will waste their postponement forms and end up never using them,” Glory Ho ‘24 said. “Teachers always say that you can postpone a test if you don’t feel ready to take it, but I notice many people who never take advantage of the rule out of fear. This new policy is definitely not helping to lessen anxiety among students.”

In addition, the new rule does not address the stressful nature of having to take a test later than scheduled, which usually involves giving up a free period or staying late after school, inconveniencing both students and teachers at HW.

“I think that it should go back to the three tests rule because I continually have four tests scheduled on one day, and it ends up being really stressful,” Liv Kriger ‘25 said.

As winter break for HW students approaches quickly every year in mid-December, the winter assessment schedule is also in practice during the final two weeks before school closes. English, history and science courses may test or collect papers on certain days, and math and language courses may do the same on other specific days. This schedule is in place to avoid a buildup of tests and due dates in the few days right before winter break.

The new assessment postponement rule does not account for season-specific assessment schedules like this one and what should occur if a student wants to postpone a test to a time outside of the allowed days for that subject. It has been unclear as to whether students may take an assessment for a subject on a day when it is not permitted to give one, and many teachers have forced students using their postponements to take it on specific days when they may not be fully prepared.

“Before winter break, I had a situation where I had to postpone a test,” Raisa Effress ‘23 said. “When I was rescheduling it with a teacher, he told me that I had to take it within the constraints of the winter assessment schedule. I did not think that this schedule applied to postponements, as I thought its purpose was to prevent an accumulation of tests before the break.”

Some teachers also insist that students must take their postponed assessment within a certain amount of time. While the general consensus among students and teachers is that students have a six-day cycle to take an assessment, many teachers demand or request that it be taken sometimes as soon as a day later than originally scheduled.

Situations like these can increase stress among students at HW rather than alleviate it and accomplish the opposite of the rule’s purpose. The rule is heavily dependent on a discussion between teachers and students, which is somewhat unavoidable at a larger school like HW.

Despite some drawbacks, students appear to believe that the rule is a step in the right direction and a clear change in mindset about assessments. There is now significantly more test-taking freedom, and students have a bit more flexibility in their schedules.

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