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Citing Burnout, COVID-19 And Canceled Classes, Northside College Prep Students Ask For ‘No Harm’ Midterms

The students are not asking to skip the tests, but they don't want scores to have a negative impact on their grades. "They’re treating this like we’re already out of the pandemic and there wasn’t just a work stoppage," one student said.

Northside College Prep High School in North Park
Dawn Rhodes/Block Club Chicago
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NORTH PARK — Students at Northside College Prep are calling on school leaders to rethink important exams next week in light of this month’s COVID-19 surge and a dispute between Chicago Public Schools and the teachers union that led to days of canceled classes.

The selective enrollment high school, 5501 N. Kedzie Ave., is known for its high academic performance. But after a rough month of quarantining, canceled school days and people being out sick, some students say it’s “unreasonable” for the school to treat this year’s test days like any other.

The students are not asking to skip the tests, but they don’t want scores to have a negative impact on their grades.

As of Friday, more than 900 students signed a petition asking the school’s administration for “no harm” exams Monday. 

“No benefits of a normal finals week can outweigh the extreme exhaustion and burn-out that we are experiencing from everything that has happened this semester, especially in the past few weeks,” the petition reads.

Sophomore Kinsey Weisenberger launched the petition, pointing out that many of the extracurricular actives students use to alleviate academic stress were canceled along with classes themselves.

“Given all of these factors, does it not seem unreasonable to continue finals week exactly as we would in a ‘normal’ year?” Weisenberger wrote. “We, the student body of Northside College Prep, are demanding that final exams be made unable to negatively affect semester grades to counter-act all of the additional stress and interruptions to our education during these unprecedented and extremely difficult times.”

Northside Principal Patti Stuber did not respond to requests for comment. In emails obtained by Block Club, Stuber told students Friday afternoon she had received the petition but would not approve no-harm exams for the entire school. She said some teachers individually were eliminating exams, changing them, or giving no-harm tests for their classes.

“Because of this flexibility, and our trust in our teachers’ practices, we have decided not to move forward with school-wide implementation of no-harm finals for all classes,” Stuber wrote. “As a community, it is important that we collaborate and work together to support one another not only during the final exams but throughout the year.”

CPS spokesman Evan Moore did not directly answer questions about Northside. In a statement, he said the district has asked school leaders to “adjust lesson plans and exams to reflect the five lost instructional days.”

“The District supports schools’ efforts to adjust practices to ensure students aren’t penalized for the lost instructional time,” the statement read.

Mia Finley, a senior, said classes have been seriously disrupted for a month by the district’s dispute with the union as well as people in and out of classrooms with COVID-19.

“They’re treating this like we’re already out of the pandemic and there wasn’t just a work stoppage. But all of those things are still happening,” Finley said.

Other selective enrollment schools in the district have either canceled their midterms or are accommodating the recent disruptions by having “no harm” exams, she said. Lane Tech and Jones College Prep are among the schools making accommodations for the exams.

Finley worries the school-wide GPA will suffer and look “insanely different” compared to other selective enrollment schools.

“It’s frustrating for us when we’re seeing that the other schools are getting the accommodations that we hoped we could get,” Finley said.

Oliwia Mucha, another senior, said she wouldn’t be able to take as many practice tests as she would normally this weekend, either. College Board, a website the school uses for AP class curriculums, will be down for site maintenance for part of Saturday. 

Students at the school are serious about their grades and are proud of the rigorous academic culture at the school, so it’s unfair for administrators to not factor in these outside disruptions in how Monday’s tests will be handled, Mucha said.

“I actually called the College Board and they said there was nothing they could do about it,” Mucha said. “I really wish that there was a way to have leniency on this kind of thing, because I personally have two AP finals on Monday.”

This is a developing story.

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