An end to finals?

As finals season rolls around once again for students, it is a common fantasy to wish they were gone and it’s easy to see why.

After all, this is a time where most students stay up all night attempting to cram in forgotten knowledge from the previous semester for a single test. It’s a stressful time and that’s putting it mildly. Fortunately, some districts appear to be moving toward different ways of assessing students’ knowledge. For instance, at Danbury High School, the Board of Education voted to eliminate mid-term and finals weeks, and use the time for instruction. But this isn’t just a case of wish fulfillment for students.

There’s data to show that this has a real benefit toward learning.

Most of the studying for finals consists of memorizing formulas, facts and problems. In an educational system that is focused on higher-level thinking and critical analysis, finals allow students to use those skills very little.

The issue is that, although finals force students to update their knowledge of subject matter, the current system of testing does not allow for growth or further learning.

After the finals are administered, it is rare for students to see their incorrect answers on the test. The potential for academic improvement is great if students were able to review their mistakes. Finals also take away large amounts of instructional time. In addition to the time lost to standardized tests, teachers are having less and less face-to-face instruction with their classes.

Danbury found that its current system of preparing for and administration of finals lost up to 18 days of instructional time. Finally, the exams often have a negative impact on a student’s final course grade. With the two exams contributing to 20% of a student’s yearly course grade at Greenwich High, these two tests are equal to one-quarter worth of tests, quizzes, homework, and projects.

As an alternative to the traditional testing process, Danbury administrators are proposing a more involved style of demonstrating knowledge.

Through projects, presentations, and papers, students would be able to apply and express their skills in a new format. The new method gives individual teachers more control in assessing their classes specifically, and gives students an opportunity to research and truly understand material.

This is not to say examinations are without merit in education. Being able to effectively assess comprehension is a key part of education, and it teaches students how to prepare. Students must review difficult concepts and in many cases, work together to understand them.

Many people also raise the valid point that eliminating high school exams would leave students inadequately prepared for college.

However, it appears the trend of eliminating finals is continuing in colleges today.

A 2010 Harvard Magazine article states that only 259 out of 1,137 undergraduate-level courses had scheduled spring finals, and only 14 of the 500 graduate-level courses would be giving final exams.

It seems that educators are looking for a new way to assess student learning and that final exams may soon be a thing of the past.

 

Henry Ricciardi is a senior at Greenwich High School.

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