Special Schedules: A Look Into Stuyvesant’s SAT Days

During Stuyvesant’s annual SAT days, all students must go through eight minute class periods, and many wonder about the purpose of a shortened schedule.

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As nerve wracking as Stuyvesant’s in-school SAT day may have been for juniors, the examination affected students of all grades. Stuyvesant’s first SAT day occurred on March 22, with an instructional day for all students following the exam. The SAT was administered from 8:30 a.m. to 12:00 p.m., while normal instruction started at 12:54 p.m. Each period was eight minutes each, with the 10th period ending at 2:50, making the school day an hour and 56 minutes—about one-fifth the length of a typical day.

Shortened periods during SAT administration have been the norm at Stuyvesant for years. “This type of schedule has been in existence for decades. At least from what I saw in the decade before I was here from the leftover notes and memorandum, the same pattern was done previously, the one to 10,”  Principal of Organization Dr. Gary Haber said. 

In past years, periods 1 to 10 have been as long as 14 minutes each, based on an approximation of how long the exam would take each year. “It was an estimate of how long it would take to administer the examination, including the pre administration, post administration, and provide a lunch break for students and the faculty and then fit in the 10 periods,” Dr. Haber explained. Due to the new digital SAT, the school administration allocated even more time for the exam to account for any technical difficulties or hiccups. “Given that this is new—this digital testing, we don't know what issues could come about. We wanted to give a little bit of a cushion, a 30 minute cushion, so we did that,” Dr. Haber stated. 

Fortunately, the exam went smoothly and finished much sooner than expected. As Stuyvesant gets more comfortable administering digital exams, less time will be set aside for the exam, and classes may return to 12 to 14 minutes instead of eight minutes. In addition, this year a lunch break was provided for juniors and staff between the end of the exam and the start of the school day, which left less class time. In past years, juniors and staff went from the SAT straight into classes.

For the juniors who took the SAT, the decision to go to school after the exam was not a difficult one. “Since I had the SAT, it wasn't as weird because it's not that bad if you're already here anyway,” junior Muhib Muhib said. While it might seem exhausting to go from a stressful exam to school right after, the break between the two—which was extended by the exam’s unexpected early end—allowed juniors to recharge. “We got a very long lunch break set up because it ended earlier. So we got, like, close to two hours,” Muhib remarked.

However, many students of other grades questioned the value of attending school. Those with especially long commutes found the required school day to be a nuisance since the time used to travel could be longer than the time used to learn. Sophomore Elizabeth Chen expressed her annoyance with the shortened schedule: “I feel like it was very unnecessary, because you can’t really do anything in eight minutes. Also, the length of the entire school day is less than a lot of people’s commute, like mine.” 

Some students’ parents agreed and kept their children home for the day. “My parents said, ‘If you don’t have anything important that day, then don’t go,’ and it was also a really cold day, so they told me not to risk a cold,” sophomore Sumaiya Karim recalled.

Another popular reason for staying home was to catch up on sleep. For example, freshman Radwan Rumi decided to stay home in order to have a break from school. “Since my parents knew that I had an excessive workload that week and was stressed, they let me stay home on SAT day so I could get a little break,” Rumi elaborated. By staying at home, students were given the opportunity to catch up on their insufficient sleep. “On an average school day, I get about five to six hours of sleep. But on the SAT day, I slept for 15 hours straight and it was really refreshing,” Rumi answered. 

Sophomore Jane No expressed a similar sentiment. “During the school day, I stayed at home and was recuperating my physical body instead of going to school, so I feel like that was more productive than going to school,” she said.

However, many students had no choice but to go to school in order to not be marked absent—some parents were concerned about what skipping school, even if it was only for two hours, might mean for their child’s attendance record. “My mom still made me go to school because of the attendance. They should’ve closed the school so that the parents would allow us to just chill for that day,” Freshman Yi Lin Liu stated. 

Unfortunately, as ridiculous as eight minute periods might seem, they are necessary—school cannot just be canceled for the day. All NYC public schools are required to have a certain number of instructional days to be eligible for state funding. “The reason why we had the eight minute periods is due to the mandate that we have an instructional day. That mandate comes from the Department of Education, New York City. It's called New York State Aidable Days, which means the city gets certain funding for each day,” Dr. Haber said. “We can't just say, ‘let's just run the SAT and not run classes today.’ We don't have that option.” Recent addition of some cultural holidays to the school calendar, such as Juneteenth and Diwali, has also limited instructional days.

However, the term “instructional day” has a flexible definition, with only one requirement: the day’s activities are instructional for all students. In past years, students were required to come into school for a homeroom activity instead of shortened periods. Both schedules have been the norm for Stuyvesant, with other alternatives such as having one or two full periods being impossible. Although having one or two full length class periods could allow for more meaningful instruction time, it is essential to ensure that all classes are on equal footing. 

Remote days are also not possible since Stuyvesant does not have the authority to announce them. “Certainly, [remote days are] something we would consider, but it is not an option. Only the chancellor can call those remote days. He can say ‘we're gonna have a remote day today,’ but we schools do not have that latitude to call remote days,” Dr. Haber said. 

Furthermore, the College Board and DOE did not allow Stuyvesant to administer the SAT on a weekend. “The College Board and the Department of Education did not allocate a spring Saturday date. There was none,” Dr. Haber explained. In fact, the PSAT 10 was only allowed to be on a Saturday after hard work and convincing from the administration. “That April 13th, we gained that day through, I would say, intense lobbying for it. We asked both the College Board and the Department of Education for permission to do the PSAT 10 on Saturday,” Dr. Haber described. 

Thus, teachers tried to make the best of the day but faced time constraints and had to turn to alternative activities. Social studies teacher Hing Li described how shorter schedules led him to talk with his class to engage students. “There are times, such as the eight minute periods, where I have to consider whether the lesson will be effective in what I want to convey,” Li said in an email interview. “Those times, I try to build a class community or talk about something interesting that is adjacently related to the content we are working on.” Shorter periods also force Li to reflect on what he is teaching and to prioritize what information is most important. “A short period might have me reflect on my lesson and ask myself whether I really need to teach or focus on certain ideas/concepts,” he explained. 

Other teachers attempted to conduct short lessons. “I know in math [class], we looked at a concept, but I don’t think it’s that important, like, we’re not going to be tested on this. I think it’s more of a fun fact,” sophomore Annie Chen described. 

However, Li noted that shorter periods lowered students’ attention spans and understanding. “The problem I tend to notice is that students believe a short day is equivalent to a ‘no school’ day. As a result, they miss out on things discussed in class and have a gap in knowledge,” Li remarked.

Perhaps that is why some teachers chose not to teach during shorter periods. Junior Brandon Waworuntu commented on how classes were more like frees. “We didn't really do anything. I just talked to people, and it's just a little annoying because you're not getting any work done,” he said. Waworuntu also commented on how passing time was half the length of actual periods, meaning students were on the move for much of the day. “You're just there half the time walking from class to class,” Waworuntu described. 

Of course, there were some redeeming qualities of the shortened schedule. Some students felt that the day’s late start allowed for some much needed rest and relaxation. Waworuntu recounted how he had more time to prepare for the day. “I woke up around 10:30, and then I made myself a nice breakfast, which is rare because I usually don't even eat breakfast because I'm always so busy rushing out the door,” Waworuntu described. “It was a nice change, and I felt well rested.” 

Li also commented on how a later start changed how his students appeared and interacted in his classes. “It is a different experience teaching/interacting with students at a different time of day. Seeing students more awake or asleep when you see them at 12:30 p.m. instead of 8:00 a.m. really makes you think how different they would be in your class if they had a different schedule.”

Additionally, the shortened school day freed up more time in the day, which some students used as an opportunity to meet with friends. “On days like these, I get to have a place for my friends to meet up to hang out, because it’s convenient,” sophomore Haowen Xiao remarked. 

Furthermore, an open school has various benefits. For example, an open cafeteria provides many students with meals. Students are able to participate in afterschool activities, such as clubs and PSAL sports. 

The next SAT date is scheduled for Friday, April 19, and students will follow the same special eight minute period schedule—a schedule that they must make the most of. Students can wake up later, relax, and hang out with friends. Of course, those who have long commutes and other important responsibilities should remember that missing a two hour day will not have an impact on their grades and resting far outweighs maintaining perfect attendance. Regardless of whether you choose to make the journey to school or decide it’s not worth it, the SAT schedule will likely be here to stay.