(illustration by Joaquin Romero) Every new policy can have unintended consequences; fixing one problem may create a new one. Christian Brothers’ new shadow day policy prohibits testing on shadow days, which are a very important factor in the admissions process. But many teachers and students find this challenging. The purpose of shadow days is “to […]
The purpose of shadow days is “to give prospective students a look at what life is like at Christian Brothers,” Director of Admissions Mrs. Kristen McCarthy explained. There are 12 shadow days a year, and for many prospective students, it is the most important factor in choosing a high school because the actual experience allows them to assess the atmosphere of the school and ensure CB is the right fit for them.
In the past, teachers were told to have “entertaining and engaging” lessons on shadow days, but many still gave tests. However, Mrs. McCarthy explains how several shadows ended up sitting through four tests, which was unproductive and “did not give them a good experience.”
The admissions office recognized this problem and wanted to make a change. As a result, principal Mr. Chris Orr “clarified for all of us that entertaining and engaging lessons are not tests, so we do not test on shadow days,” Mrs. McCarthy says.
However, now that teachers are not allowed to give tests on shadow days, which are almost every Tuesday and Friday from mid-October until mid-January, they are left with only block days and Mondays to test. Many teachers are left balancing schedules with rising student stress levels.
English instructor Ms. Marian Shackel shares the challenge to keep moving through the curriculum without overburdening students. When classes finish a unit, they need to take a test before moving on to the next unit. She explains how lessons and schedules keep getting pushed back in what she calls the “perfect storm.”
Suppose a class finishes a unit on Tuesday and reviews on block day; it makes sense to test on Friday, but they can’t because it’s a shadow day. She then has to move the test to Monday, but as has happened several times, what if it is a homework free weekend?
“Things just keep getting pushed back,” she admits with frustration. “This does happen a couple of times in the first semester.”
Science teacher Ms. Nicole Brousseau faces complications for her classes when she is only able to test on Mondays and block days. Monday tests are usually rough.
“I don’t feel students do as well when they’ve had a few days of a break in between the instruction, so the best days to do them are block days, but science teachers use those days for labs,” Ms. Brousseau reveals.
Ms. Shackel mentioned that if one of her three sets of ACP Freshman Literature and Composition has the block set on a different day, the set that takes the exam first will probably share some of the test questions, giving the other(s) an unfair advantage.
Although Ms. Brousseau does not have that issue since she always has several different versions of tests, block day tests interfere with labs, and “that has resulted in a decrease in the number of labs that I’m able to provide my students,” she says. Labs are often the best part of science classes, and it isn’t fair to the current students to lose this opportunity.
Ms. Shackel has noticed the negative impact numerous tests has on the students. Although she tries to shift tests to alleviate stress, it is not always possible when test days are limited and the curriculum becomes constricted.
“What happens is students may have three or four tests on a block day,” the English teacher says. “Is that fair to the students?”
Although at times it may seem that teachers are conspiring to make the students’ lives as miserable as possible, Ms. Shackel says that is far from the truth.
“Teachers do their best to roll with the punches gently,” she explains. In fact, teachers “suffer when students suffer. The current students’ stress level is a big concern. We wouldn’t be here if we didn’t care.”
But when classes can only test on block days or Mondays, the buildup of tests is inevitable. Ms. Brousseau describes her students as “extremely stressed.” She teaches all grade levels, and notes that “across the board, they have been complaining that the number of tests they have Mondays and block days is immense and intense.”
Ms. Shackel expresses special concern for her freshman, who are not used to the fast paced high school schedules, numerous tests, and other assignments. It’s all new to them, and they’re still trying to adapt.
“Stress is their middle name!” she exclaims.
Students agree that they are increasingly stressed, especially when they have multiple tests on the same day.
“Shadow rules give teachers and students a very limited window in which they can accomplish stuff, especially when it comes to tests and quizzes,” Sinead Cahill (’20) explains. Although the rule does not officially concern quizzes, teachers who plan on giving quizzes that take a significant portion of the set often end up postponing them so the class will be more interesting for prospective students.
“It’s hard because often we just don’t have enough time to focus on that many things in the same day, so we are forced to prioritize which tests we study for, and some subjects fall through the cracks,” Mary Melarkey (’20) reasons.
Sinead adds that having multiple tests “puts a lot of pressure on us to study for multiple classes, and sometimes forces us to neglect others. It can also make the teachers feel guilty about having to stress out their students so much while being powerless to really help the students at the same time.”
“I honestly liked the idea of only having tests on certain days,” Ai-Linh Tran (’21) says. “But as the weeks progressed, I realized that it just means a lot of tests on one day. It makes school really stressful because now all the tests aren’t spread out. Studying for four tests on the same day isn’t fun at all.”
Additional stress and conflicts can emerge from extracurricular activities; some students are not able to start homework until much later, so they have an even narrower window of time to study for their numerous tests. Stacking up so many tests on one day also requires students to plan ahead and study in advance.
“Tests are a major part of high school, and although they may not be the most fun activity for shadows to sit through, the new rule disrupts our test schedule a lot,” Anna Urias (’20) says.
“If a shadow does not want to be in a set that is testing, I think a student should be allowed to pass them off to a friend temporarily for that set,” she suggests.
Having tests shows prospective students that CB is a highly academic school and one of the main reasons that families choose CB. While it may not cross shadows’ minds that no one had a test, seeing or hearing about tests would leave an impression. Of course, simply sitting through a test is unproductive, but couldn’t students simply pass off their shadows to another student if they have a test? However, as with most issues, the situation is more complex than it initially appears.
“We carefully match our visitors with hosts who have similar interests, and we take a lot of care in that process, really trying to make sure that students get to see classes that are of interest to them,” Mrs. McCarthy says.
If students pass off their shadows to their friends, the shadow may not get to see the classes they want to see or are interested in. Many students also forget it can be a little scary as a shadow, especially if you do not know your host and are unfamiliar with CB’s campus. Shadows might feel overwhelmed in a completely new environment surrounded by strangers who may look older and almost intimidating.
“It can be challenging to try to connect and bond with one student, so then when we pass them on to other kids, it can add to that feeling of uncertainty or not feeling as welcome,” Mrs. McCarthy says. There is the additional challenge of ensuring everyone gets where they need to be on time and that shadows are not left behind.
However, passing off shadows, even if hosts do not have a test, can have benefits. It can give shadows an opportunity to see another class that they may want to see, but having to go with several different students could be counterproductive.
It seems there is no perfect solution that wold benefit everyone. However, Ms. Brousseau has some suggestions.
“If [the admissions office] talked to the students who were going to shadow the next day, and if they asked them if they had any tests on that day in those particular classes, they could reassign students if they did have any tests and I think that could benefit both,” the science teacher proposes.
She suggests more communication between admissions and students could create a suitable solution. Besides asking students if they have tests on days when they are assigned shadows, the admissions office “could look on Schoology and look at those classes and see if those kids were having a test because it’s posted on Schoology.”
Of course, this could create other difficulties if tests end up being moved or are not posted early enough. Potential matches for shadows based on interests and classes would be much more limited.
Despite the difficulty of the situation, Mrs. McCarthy emphasizes her appreciation for the teachers’ flexibility and student cooperation.
“I appreciate everybody’s willingness to accommodate these important days in our school schedule. I know it adds additional pressure for our teachers; it adds additional pressure for students if you have multiple tests on a day — we feel that and certainly empathize with that, and we’re grateful.”