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Hillsborough's school calendar change puts studying to the test

Alexis Boback's winter break was more stressful than usual this year.

That's because the freshman International Baccalaureate student at Hillsborough High School spent most of it studying.

Last school year, Hillsborough County moved semester exams from mid December to early January. Now vacation time is study time.

"It takes away from time spent with family," Alexis said. "The extra reviews to do over break are stressful."

With the new schedule, material that instructors first began teaching back in August gets reviewed after the new year. Study guides stained from use amid holiday celebrations get graded, and official testing doesn't begin until Tuesday.

"I think it's useless," said Alonso High School senior Jasmin Garcia. "We usually study all the way up to the test. When we wait to take them after break we forget it."

Still, the district has its reasons for the changes, voted on by its calendar committee.

"The decision was made to balance the number of days in each semester," district spokeswoman Linda Cobbe said. "The Legislature passed a law saying school could not start more than two weeks before Labor Day and students' families expressed they wanted a whole week off for Thanksgiving and two weeks off for the winter holidays."

The timing of state exams also played a role in the decision.

"We don't want semester exams too close to FCAT," Cobbe said.

Stephanie Stein, a freshman at Alonso High, doesn't like it.

Having a two-week vacation to do the review causes her to procrastinate, she said, pushing it all to the end so she can enjoy the rest of the time.

Math teacher Yolando Andrews, who lives in Plant City and teaches at King High School in Tampa, agrees. She thinks the changes may hurt students' grades. However, grades from the 2009-2010 school year, when the schedule change was first implemented, did not appear to be affected.

"We used to come back and everything was new and fresh," she said. "As a teacher, I preferred that."

Cobbe recognizes the complaints, but thinks students and faculty will gradually adjust.

"Its a change and some people didn't like it, but there wasn't a big outcry," she said recently.

Jeff Pelzer, a computer teacher at Freedom High, likes the new calendar.

"I don't have any problem with it," he said. "I think its somewhat beneficial for the kids because they have time to look at their study guide over the break."

Pelzer has a different concern. This year, Advanced Placement exams fall immediately after Hillsborough schools' spring break.

"That's a much bigger problem," he said. "The poor kids will come back after a week off and the next day have to take an AP exam for college credit."

Jasmin Garcia hasn't given a thought to the upcoming AP exams yet. She has been focused on studying and maintaining her position as fourth in her class.

"This is the first time that I have hung out all break," Jasmin said near the end of the two-week hiatus from school. She spent the afternoon at Citrus Park Mall shopping with her friends.

Shelley Rossetter can be reached at (813) 226-3374 or srossetter@sptimes.com.

>>Fast facts

2011 key exam dates

Jan. 3: Students returned to school.

Tuesday: Semester exams officially begin.

Wednesday: Early release day.

Jan. 14: End of second grading period (first semester).

April 22-25: Spring break/schools and district offices closed.

May 2: Advanced Placement exams begin.

Hillsborough's school calendar change puts studying to the test 01/06/11 [Last modified: Thursday, January 6, 2011 3:30am]

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