Students were surprised to learn of changes to exam week
By Elise Marlett, Editor in Chief
This year’s final exam week will look different for Advanced Placement students at the West Bend High Schools.
Students are now required to come to school for all hours of the day during the week of final exams, with the exception of study halls and off hours. Previously, students who had taken an AP exam in May and maintained a B or better in the class were not required to attend their final exam period or take a final exam. The expectation for teachers during these hours is to engage students in some sort of culminating activity, not necessarily limited to a test.
“We were informed that students will need to be in school all day for all of those days to get our minutes, which I understand,” West calculus teacher Mary Damkot said. “I did specifically state that I knew in my AP class there would not be an exam because they have already taken it. The response given was that attendance will be taken and students are expected to be there.”
Many AP students were shocked by the news, as there had been no indication prior to April that the traditional exam practice would change.
“I was surprised because I know it hasn’t been that way in the past and I was a little annoyed because I will have nothing to do for any of those exam periods,” West senior Madeline Damkot said.
West principal Ralph Schlass and East principal John Graf say that in lieu of an exam given to AP students, students will participate in any sort of activity that serves to wrap up the content they have covered throughout the school year such as a discussion, presentation or paper. Schlass says that academic achievement can be measured in ways other than a final exam and that as colleges and higher level institutions stray from traditional test taking, the West Bend High Schools intend to follow suit.
“We want to mirror what they are doing in universities or in other places,” Schlass said. “Even to get your driver’s license, you don’t necessarily do the behind the wheel test. So everything changes, right? Exams were a hard and fast thing at one time because universities were all doing them and our job is to prep students for their next phase in life, whether it be college or work.”
Though there is work taking place during the week of final exams, many students feel frustrated by the change.
“I don’t see how it’s a beneficial use of our time, there’s not going to be anything for me to do,” East junior Brynn Bauer said. “I understand that we need instructional minutes but they are not going to be utilized as instructional minutes, they are gonna be everyone just sitting there.”
West junior Darick Fait echoed Bauer, saying that he already studied hard for an end-of-course assessment.
“All of the time that we put into studying for our AP tests to then sit through an exam period where we do nothing, I think it’s just insulting,” he said.
Schlass says that the former practice was intended to act as an incentive encouraging students to take AP exams, but it’s enforcement has created a rift between students who must attend school to take exams and those who do not. To Schlass, the opportunity to earn college credit provides adequate incentive for students to take the AP exams.
“We don’t want to shorten the calendar just because students have taken an AP exam,” Schlass said. “What we are saying is that instructional minutes and time in a class is important and we have a calendar that says we are in school that day. Nowhere does it ever promise anybody that we are creating two different systems whereby those who take AP have that incentive.”
Now that more than a year has passed since schools went remote at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, Graf says that we need to make up for lost time.
“I think we have to treat instructional minutes with value and I think we saw a big loss last year when we weren’t able to be in the building,” Graf said. “Quite frankly, we lost out on a lot of things by being virtual. We need to really cherish every moment we have in this building. We don’t want to shortchange any student when it comes to opportunities to learn whether they are an AP student or not.”
The term “instructional minutes” is not one in reference to the law, as Schlass says that the high schools are not changing the exam practice in order to meet any legal requirement. Both principals express an ongoing desire to improve the academics at the high schools, placing learning at the top of the list of priorities.
“I think Mr. Graf and I are really committed to making this an institution that really places a premium on instruction and on learning,” Schlass said. “Every minute counts. If you graduate from East or West, universities and employers should say ‘They went to West Bend? That school has got high standards for their students.’”
Graf says that teaching and learning is an everyday occurrence, with or without tests.
“I think that we have to create an environment where learning is always first and foremost,” Graf said.
As for what to expect in the coming years, the previous practice is unlikely to return. The principals agree that there are always opportunities to learn, regardless of whether they are before or after the AP exam.
“I think it will be something that we need to continue in order to enforce a culture of learning,” Graf said. “I don’t know if it should really be a change, learning doesn’t stop because of an assessment.”
Top image: West math teacher Mary Damkot teaches her AP Calculus AB class after the AP exam. Photo by Elise Marlett, Editor in Chief.