Darien High students say midterms should be axed, citing COVID-19 and stress

Students are dismissed at the end of the school day at Darien High School in Darien, Conn. Tuesday, Jan. 11, 2022.

Students are dismissed at the end of the school day at Darien High School in Darien, Conn. Tuesday, Jan. 11, 2022.

Tyler Sizemore / Hearst Connecticut Media

DARIEN — Over 1,000 people have signed a petition to cancel midterms at Darien High School, with students expressing frustration with the current testing policy and asking the administration for leniency as COVID-19 cases surge.

Students say they are under the same amount of stress and uncertainty as they were in the early days of the pandemic — in some cases, even more, as the highly-contagious omicron variant has forced several hundred students online in an echo of spring 2020.

“The administration likes to talk about how we are a Blue Wave family, yet they continue to ignore the health and well-being of their students,” said senior Tripp Lyons, who started the petition to cancel midterms via Change.org. As of Thursday night, about 1,500 people had signed onto the petition. “This petition is not just because we don’t like midterms or because we are too lazy to study. ... We are concerned that the current challenges that we face on a daily basis are going to impact our ability to perform to the highest standards.”

This is the first time that the school will hold midterm exams since January 2020. The exams were originally scheduled for Jan. 12, but school officials decided to postpone testing in a concession to student concerns and as a result of weather-related school closures last week.

However, tests are still scheduled to run from Jan. 19 onward.

“We believe, as a school community, that midterm exams are opportunities for our students to answer questions that require a sophisticated understanding of the overarching themes within our disciplines, make connections, and communicate their thinking in a variety of ways,” Principal Ellen Dunn wrote in a Jan. 5 communication to students. “These exams mirror the experiences that our students will have in their post high school educational settings. Given the limited opportunities they have had for these experiences in recent years, we believe the exam period also serves as important preparation.”

Lyons said he and a group of fellow students have been discussing the situation with school officials for days, asking them to reconsider their decision to hold midterms.

He said students who are sick or quarantining are at a disadvantage, as they will not have access to remote midterms and will instead have to take the tests within a narrow time limit upon returning to school.

“What Darien High School is asking kids to do is to first get over a COVID infection, then cram material that has been taught over a period of five months, and then make up midterms when they come back,” Lyons said.

Lyons also pointed to nearby school districts that have done away with formal midterms this year, like Stamford and New Canaan.

In nearby Weston, a group of students also created an online petition after high school administrators announced the school would have midterms starting next week. Like in Darien, the petition pointed to the stress on students and the number of students who are unable to be in school because they tested positive and are in isolation or are a close contact to a positive case and are quarantining.

Given that Darien’s midterms are still scheduled, Lyons said students are now asking the administration for a “structural reform” of exams, with students allowed to either use their notes or work on projects in substitution of formal exams.

Lyons said he also suggested optional exams, which would give students the chance to see their grades before deciding if they want tests to count toward their final class score.

Sophomore Jack Calve said, anecdotally, he knows around 15 students that are out of school right now for COVID-related reasons.

“It’s unnecessary stress,” Calve said. “Many of us are thinking about the students who have COVID-19 or are in quarantine right now. And rather than resting like they should be, they’re being forced into studying all night and pulling all-nighters to figure out this material that they have to learn.”

Students also said because of the confusion, many teachers conveyed to their classes that midterms might not proceed as scheduled after the break, leaving students scrambling when the administration announced testing would continue.

Superintendent Alan Addley said officials have made modifications in response to student concerns, such as lowering the weight of midterm scores to count for only 10 percent of their final grade.

“The high school administration and faculty are very sensitive to the kids’ needs, and indeed throughout the pandemic have made adjustments along the way,” Addley said. “We have been in school and exams play a role in school, as long as it’s done thoughtfully and respectfully.”