The Blackout Schedule: a “Double-Edged Sword”

By David McDaniels

“Let’s talk about testing!” A line you most definitely should not approach somebody at a party with but a necessary topic of discussion in our stressful and crazy high school lives. Each student here at Byram Hills gets tested between 3-5 times a week. At the end of the quarter, however, students’ work becomes even greater. When this time rolls around, students are bustling through the hallway yelling about their math test on their way to their science test. You will find tired students, slumped over at lunch, waiting for “the worst week and a half of the quarter to end.”

Byram Hills has proposed a solution to this: the Blackout Schedule. To those who do not know what this is, it is a testing schedule for the last week and a half of every quarter assigning every subject a day or two to test. In theory, this seems ideal, but there are also some effects of this schedule that lead many to question why we do it in the first place.

There is no doubt that there are some clear benefits of this proposed solution. It was put in place to make students’ lives easier and to prevent students from having too many tests on one day.  Each person I interviewed saw the genuine attempt to make students lives easier. Mr. Hubbs, an English teacher at BHHS, said that although it is an “imperfect solution, I think it’s important for everyone to understand that the blackout schedule, even with all its warts, was adopted to help students.” Freshman John Trongone shares a similar opinion, explaining, “I appreciate that they try to balance the schedule but it seems like it ends up stressing kids out more.”

This raises the next question: why would a tool used to lighten students’ workloads end up stressing them out more? The answer is twofold. First, the schedule is not enforced, it is a mere suggestion. In other words, teachers are encouraged to follow the schedule, but many stray away from it as they cannot assign a test before students have learned all of the information. This results in the same problems that the schedule was trying to eliminate. Sophomore Nolan Sanders said, “Even with the schedule, I still feel stretched thin and often have multiple tests on one day.” Sophomore Dylan Starker adds, “The fault in the system is that not all teachers stick to it… and students often feel like grades from tests will make or break your quarter average.”  

The next issue is the blackout schedule does not take into account when a test would be best for each class. This leads to premature tests causing more stress. Dylan continued saying, “Even if it’s not a necessary time to have a test, teachers feel obligated to do so.” This can work the other way as well, as teachers are at times forced to postpone their tests.

This leads to the obvious question, what can be done to fix it?  For starters the schedule can be extended, giving teachers more leeway to test when the time is appropriate. The schedule could be eliminated, but then one may end up with three or four tests on the same day. The best solution would have to be a mixture of both. Teachers would have to be sensitive to the student’s schedule and take into account all student’s work from other classes, while students have to budget their time and plan ahead. The common theme throughout my investigation can be summarized by Mr. Hubbs, “the blackout schedule is a tough nut to crack.”