A Smooth Transition: The Move Away from the Staggered Quarter System

As Byram Hills returns from a year of hybrid learning, a range of changes have been brought about – including the elimination of the staggered quarter system. Read on to learn more about how the new system has affected students.

By Sydney Black

As Byram Hills transitions back from a year of hybrid learning, a wealth of changes have been brought to the school, ranging from the new block schedule to a universal lunch. In addition to last year’s emphasis on more projects and less formal tests, the grading system has had to be re-examined as well. Furthermore, as part of this reevaluation, the staggered quarter system was eliminated, creating greater simplicity in planning while showing minimal negative effects on students’ workload. 

Traditionally, the staggered quarter system gave academic departments different start and end dates for each quarter. This meant that some marking periods would be longer for certain departments while others were shorter. For example, last year, the first quarter for the Science and Social Studies Department may have ended in mid-November, while the English and Arts Departments ended over a week later.

This system was implemented to prevent the piling up of tests, projects, and other assignments at the end of each quarter, in essence making the students’ workload more manageable. Beforehand, there was the short-lived “blackout schedule.” Mr. Horowitz, a chemistry teacher explained this format saying, “a blackout was actually a set time where teachers were allowed to test in [certain] days.” Given this limited window when teachers were able to test at the end of the quarter, the blackout was soon restricted. Furthermore, the staggered system did not make a significant difference in students’ stress levels either. Mr. Horowitz continued, the stress “spread out to a three week period where students were stressing about one class and then stressing for the others and actually it kind of was self-defeating in that the students had a greater amount of stress instead of having achieved less stress.” To simplify and reduce stress around the grading process, staggered quarters were eliminated altogether.

Given the staggered quarters were designed to alleviate stress, did the move away from this system actually increase anxiety and worry among the students?

For many, the difference between the two systems of grading deadlines – staggered and uniform – was minimal. Deborah Varghese, a senior, explained that “it never really had a significant impact on me personally; it felt pretty normal.” It is very possible that all this time, the demanding course load at the end of a quarter was simply the result of a busy schedule filled with APs, sports, clubs, and/or studying for standardized tests. 

For others, there is no lens of comparison as to what a “normal” level of stress looks like. For freshman and sophomores, the entirety of their high school experience has been affected by Coronavirus. Shruthi Franklin, a sophomore, spoke to this,  “I’m not exactly sure if I can talk about ‘normal workload’ since I have never experienced that yet at the high school. What I can say is that for most of my classes, the workload has been manageable and an easy thing to complete.” Because of the relatively minimal impact of the elimination of the staggered quarter system, the new system looks like it is here to stay. Ultimately, the new school year has elicited unique challenges as students return from a year and a half of virtual and hybrid learning. The simplification of grading policies through the elimination of the staggered quarter is just one way that Byram Hills has been able to facilitate a smooth transition back to normalcy.