As we embark as parents with a high school freshmen, we have had many adjustments. No adjustment has been more difficult than the preparation for finals. I’m going to be upfront - we need to get rid of this archaic practice of assessment. Now, before you stop reading or roll your eyes, I did some action research in talking with some educators across the country (and even some at my son’s school).
Here is what I learned:
- We do finals because that’s what we’ve always done. Yep. we give students a final exam because we had final exams. Ridiculous.
- It’s part of our student learning objective (SLO) that is tied to our evaluation. Okay. Let’s dig deeper. If you are measuring success you probably started with a pre-assessment at the beginning of the year. If you did you have a way to measure growth. Establish a scale that honors growth over performance.
- The final measures learning. Wrong. The final measures how well the student used the study guide that you gave them to prepare for a test. Let’s not even mention that many of these assessment assess Quad A Learning.
- We need to have it as part of the education program. Wrong. I talked with a high school administrator in another state and they don’t give finals.
So what do finals do for students?
- Creates unnecessary stress.
- Reinforces facts are more important than deep critical thinking.
- Reduces a semester worth of work in to one grade that isn’t an accurate reflection of learning. Note: This sounds eerily familiar to a state accountability test that most teachers oppose because it’s one moment of learning in time for an entire year’s or work.
- Develops a game out of learning - only focus on the study guide.
- Lowers the overall grade for the semester (in most cases according to a high school teacher).
What can we do instead?
- Build collaborative opportunities for end of semester projects. Allow students choice in selecting topics from the semester (either from a list or on their own). Give them a rubric for the expected learning. Offer them to work independently, partners, or in groups.
- Have a conversation. Meet with students individually or in small groups to talk about their learning. Let them share orally their learning and growth. Have a conversation. They can even put in writing what they learned.
- Give them a new topic. Based on the skills acquired over the semester, have them research and present a topic that extends the curriculum,
- If you MUST give an assessment (really ponder why first) whatever you do don’t weight the assessment. If you have a culture of respect and trust (relationships) than they will do their personal best. You don’t need to weight it to “make it matter”.
Why did I write this? Besides getting off my chest and stepping on a soap box (let’s admit it’s a pretty high step), it’s to generate conversations. Let’s rethink, reassess, and reorganize our mindset around the purpose and value of assessments. With that in mind, I’m off to help my son study for his Spanish and math final exams. Good thing he has two loving parents to support him at home.