HISD changes calendar for upcoming school year, students and staff disapprove of 6-week cycles

CVHS students and staff struggle with six-week cycles and await a return to the previous schedule.

Original photo from the Houston Independent School District, designed by Jessica Lin

CVHS students and staff struggle with six-week cycles and await a return to the previous schedule.

HISD Superintendent Millard House II recently sent out a survey to staff with two 2022-2023 calendar versions. Both options show that the school year will revert back to the semester ending right at winter break.  However, although there are future changes, it won’t help the students who had struggled this year. Because midterms also occur after the break, students had to study when they should be relaxing.

For the 2020-2021 hybrid school year, the Houston Independent School District (HISD) required every school to divide their semesters into six-week cycles. The most noticeable difference between the previous nine-week cycles and the new six-week cycles is that the semester ends weeks after winter break. This year, the same rules are in place. Now that students are back in classrooms, the consequences are more apparent. 

“I feel like I had to constantly be thinking of finals during winter break, and it was hard to remember the entire semester’s worth after like two weeks of no active recall,” said senior Sarah Ajao.

For seniors, this also affected how they could work on college applications over winter break, which are often due the first week of January.

“I had to relearn everything over a period of not doing math for whole entire two weeks on top of doing college apps and scholarship essays,” said senior Yen Nguyen.

Having the second semester in the new year can also be confusing for classes that are only a single semester-long.

“If there was nine weeks, I would have finished everything macro before the break, and I would have been ready for a clean slate for government. But now, inside the 2022 school year, I have to focus on macro,” said Nguyen.

Furthermore, this timing can also negatively affect HISD students who have to move districts.

“Students who transferred out of the district during winter break, which is really common, don’t get course credit if they transfer to a different district, which is crazy, like how many students lost credit because of that,” said social studies teacher Colleen Schmidt.

Midterm tests are weighed less with the six-week cycles: 10% of the total semester grade versus the previous 20%.

“Freshman year, I was able to bring a grade up to a ninety, but I know a lot of people that couldn’t get it up with this year with the same grade,” said junior Elissa Merhi.

However, this grading system change can benefit students who want to maintain their grades going into the week of testing.

“The only good thing I can remember is just my grades. I didn’t really have to worry about midterms. So a lot of stress was taken off my shoulders because, with the 10% midterm weight, I only have to get like a 60 for most of my classes to keep the 90, so it relieves a lot of pressure in that area,” said Merhi.

There are also other reasons that some students enjoy the six-week cycles.

“I prefer the faster pace because I feel like it splits up the work and easier chunks,” said Ajao.

In the past, every school in HISD could choose if they wanted six-week or nine-week cycles. This recent effort to standardize likely comes from the idea that the shorter grading periods will allow students, especially elementary students, to get more consistent feedback.

“We’ve seen it seems like HISD tends to gear all their big plans toward elementary school when they’re planning like online learning with the pandemic and those types of things. It’s like they have an elementary school model, and high schools just have to kind of figure out how to make it work,” said statistics teacher James Barnes.

However, even elementary school teachers have issues with this system.

“I’m on something called the calendar committee, and the calendar committee for HISD makes this calendar for the entire school year, and one of the things that’s come up is the six-week calendar. I was actually surprised that the elementary school representative on that committee also is like, no, we need nine weeks because even for their kids at the lower levels, it’s better to have nine weeks to give more of a comprehensive picture of their skills,” said Schmidt.

The teachers at Carnegie have even more complaints.

“It is problematic because it’s too many grades for a teacher to get in on such short notice. And it makes it harder to have tests that have greater weights, which are more reflective of a college experience,” said Schmidt.

This grading can sometimes mean that students don’t know their final grades until the very last minute.

“A teacher would put in all of the grades the week before the cycle ends, and that barely gives me enough time to retake,” said Nguyen.

While many teachers are sticking to previous lesson plans, they have had to change their exam schedules to fit the six weeks.

“It typically means you have to give more assessments because you don’t want to lower the weight of an assessment, and you don’t want to have only one major assessment typically. So I think teachers probably end up giving more frequent tests, which can mean more stress for students,” said Barnes.

There have also been other negative consequences beyond tests.

“I used to have a project every grading cycle, but I can’t do that in a six weeks cycle. There’s not enough time to have the project be assigned and done and get it back and graded and have it be meaningful, especially in the first six weeks,” said Barnes.

Even though HISD is changing when the semester ends, for people who dislike the blanket six-week requirement for every school, there are actions they can take to incite change.

“Something like this is going to have to come from students and parents talking to their school board members. I think if they hear enough complaints from students and parents about here’s why having nine weeks is better than six weeks or here’s why it was really bad to not take finals until January and see real consequences on students and parents, then the school board is likely to talk to the superintendent about it,” said Barnes.