Students and Teachers Address Optional Finals Exams Amid Distance Learning


Although finals in both math and world language classes are optional this year, many teachers are still urging their students to take the exams as a year-end culminating experience. Staff Illustration: Mallika Tatavarti.

Parina Patel, Head Copy Editor

As the school year comes to end in a virtual fashion, taking online finals is a new and unfamiliar adjustment that many Menlo students and teachers are experiencing. Finals exams are now optional and are still only being offered in math and world language classes. 

This decision to have only math and world language finals was the intended plan coming into this school year, according to Interim Upper School Director Maren Jinnett. In regards to the finals being optional, the administration understands the anxiety that students may be feeling. “We hoped this would acknowledge the tremendous difficulty of this moment, both for our teachers and students and give some flexibility back to a common stress point,” Jinnett said in an email to The Coat of Arms.

Freshman Helen Barkley plans on taking her math final but not her Spanish final. Her math teacher suggested that the class take the math final, so she decided to take it despite being content with her grade. In contrast, Barkley’s Spanish teacher was not as adamant and said that the final would be watching a “Netflix episode” in Spanish and then writing a reflection on it, according to Barkley.

Junior Kamran Murray’s options differ from Barkley’s, as he is not taking any spring finals. Murray took five finals in the fall and recently took the AP Calculus BC exam. His Spanish teacher decided not to give a final, as there were only two other juniors in the class, and the rest of the students were seniors who don’t take spring finals. 

Sophomore Alex Acra shares a similar situation to Murray’s, as he took six finals in the fall and took AP exams for Spanish and Calculus BC, leaving Acra with no optional finals.

However, Junior Camille Porteous is planning on taking both of her finals, as she wasn’t happy with her third-quarter grades for either math or Spanish. “It’s a tough situation for teachers and students because school isn’t normal anymore, but I think it’s a good solution because it still gives people that chance [to improve their grades],” Porteous said. 

Likewise, sophomore Daniel Louie plans to take both his Spanish and math final but not with the particular intent to raise his grades. “Since [taking the final] can’t lower your grade, there’s no harm in just taking it,” Louie said. 

Upper School English and Latin teacher Jude Morris strongly encourages his students to take his final and emphasized that it could potentially raise their grades. “Hopefully that would not be the only incentive for taking it, but taking it because you want to review your material and finish the year in a way that helped sustain the usual traditions and habits that help you get through high school,” Morris said. He stated that most of his students are taking his final, excluding his senior English class and AP Latin class. 

Similarly, Upper School Math teacher Randy Joss sees the final in his class as “the metaphorical cherry on top of the sundae.”

I want them to sit for the final because that’s the one experience that ties together all of the progress that they’ve made this year. It shines a light on all the hard work they’ve done and how much they’ve changed as both mathematicians and as people,” Joss said in an email to The Coat of Arms. 

Upper School Spanish teacher Janet Tennyson’s finals for all her classes is a cumulative task that sums up all the things her students have learned in a year. “I’m hoping that students will choose to take it just so they can know and feel like they finished the year on a positive note,” Tennyson said. “I’m wanting it to be more of a positive experience than a scary ‘this is going to kill my grade’ experience.”