Student stress predates the pandemic

We’re all familiar with student stress. We can all visualize the classic, overwhelmed, high-achieving student trying to stay at the top of their class, amidst a sea of other like minded individuals. Whether the interest is in sports, the arts, or AP classes, students are drowning, especially during finals season. This is nothing new. According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America, over 80% of students are under extreme stress throughout the semester, and a majority of these students name finals as their biggest stressor. 

However, it seems to have taken an entire pandemic to get District 86 to acknowledge this issue. Now the school gave out stress balls and cookies, brought in therapy dogs, and made our finals no harm and optional. While it’s important to keep all of this momentum going after the pandemic ends, right now let’s focus on the culminating point of an entire semester’s worth of stress. Finals. 

As a student, I’ve only taken one regular final, back in eighth grade. Then the pandemic hit, and finals were put on the back burner. However, come January 2022, finals were back, taking the form of no-harm, optional assessments, which left the entire student body relieved. 

As stated in a petition from Northside College Prep students for no harm finals “No benefits of a normal finals week can outweigh the extreme exhaustion and burn-out that we are experiencing”. In a petition I created to identify the opinions of Hinsdale Central sophomores on this matter, over 100 students signed to advocate for no harm, optional finals for HCHS.

Some may say that final taking practices are essential for success in college and after. However, students already have standardized and AP tests that require similar final taking strategies, meaning the skill will not be lost with the switch in format. Additionally, the “normal” final process has turned into cramming information to pass, not to retain content knowledge.  These come together to prove that students are not gaining anything from the final taking experience. 

Additionally, finals disproportionately hurt students who are bad test takers. Based on research from the American Test Anxieties Association, “40-60% of students admit to having test anxiety….and around 38% record having it all the time.” Finals that are large portions of our grades are high-pressure situations, and students with testing anxiety have higher chances of performing in a way that doesn’t accurately reflect their content knowledge. 

Students are stressed out, thrown into a world where their self worth is decided based on their GPAs and activities. Is it necessary to give them seven or more assessments that can make or break all of the grades that they worked so hard to achieve? If a student has received an A throughout an entire semester worth of projects, tests, and homework, haven’t they adequately proven a comprehensive understanding of the material?  For these reasons, I urge anyone that holds influence in District 86 to push for the continuation of no harm, optional finals.