Final exams. Eight months away and already dreadful to think about. How do you recall facts from a year of intense coursework in 7+ courses? For future Montgomery County students, freedom may be just around the corner.
The MCPS Board of Education voted unanimously this past Tuesday (09.08.15) to scrap the two-hour final exams at the end of every school year, replacing them with shorter assessments such as projects and essays which would amount to the semester exam grade. This measure will take effect in the 2016-2017 school year, and the ruling could possibly extend itself to midterm exams as well, as soon as two school years from now.
The decision comes after a series of online questionnaires were released by the county for students, parents, and teachers to give their thoughts on final examinations. Interim Superintendent Larry Bowers is the architect of the new venture, following a statement he made this July about examinations and their impact on students.
For many, final exams can be a source of fatigue and not an accurate measure of intelligence, or even memorization skills, according to many sources. But older generations have always had to deal with the gruesome multi-hour tests, and complaints about them were not as close to the norm as they are now. So what accounts for the rise in complaints and decline in exam scores (particularly in math final exams, where in some areas, more than half MC’s students fail)?
Social media, news, and the rise in addition to our smartphones. Surely the first two have an enormous impact on public opinion and complaints, and the latter is destroying teen’s grammar and memorization skills, according to some sources. Mobile Statistics found in their study that by the end of the average person’s life, he or she is likely to spend close to three years staring at their phone screen.
But that is not all that accounts for test fatigue and student’s adamant dismay with The Board’s old policy of administering final exams.
AP, IB, PARCC, HSA. Not to mention Unit tests and other examinations. By the end of the year, students are bombarded with 2-4 hour (sometimes longer) examinations which require them to sit in mediocrely lit rooms and stare at black text on white sheets of paper, engulfed by the urgency to fill in each and every last perfect circle on their answer sheets with black #2 pencil lead.
These are all tests which require student’s utmost attention and are huge endeavors that seem insurmountable at times. The harsh reality is that students spend more time worrying about how they are going to do on a given test than enjoying what is taught to them by their teachers, keeping with them the interesting facts and ideas that they will have for the rest of their lives.
Students should be encouraged to learn, not to memorize. To enjoy, not endure. To appreciate, not to denounce. Not enough is done at the High School level to truly inspire students to do their best.
The inspirational, joyous talks we receive in elementary school are not sufficient enough to push us through our studies throughout life. More motivated, passionate teachers are required in this generation, so that the next generation may confront the grave issues that face society as a whole: global warming, the neglect of nature, the disposal of certain unalienable human rights (in the U.S. and across the globe), and the corruption which is overtaking media outlets and government alike.
And final exams are not helping students become more successful, ready to address and excel in an ever-changing world. Nor are examinations closing the achievement gap.
Giving students time to write essays and do projects and assessments in a methodical, logical way where they can be taught the basics by teachers and be expected to take the initiative to do the assignment individually, is smart. Because when foreign-speaking, low-income, disadvantaged students come into a final exam with hundreds of hours of class-time ingrained in their minds, they do not know what to remember and what not to remember. Throwing a paper in student’s faces after a long period of 4-5 months of learning is unethical and unfair.
Because when you learn things slowly, you have trouble recalling them to mind quickly. It’s no wonder that teaching students how to write essays is easier than teaching students how to do well on a two-hour test. More students fail the latter of the two assessments, and it is not just because of stress. Teaching students how to create (write essays, do projects, help people), is a much more valuable and powerful skill than teaching them how to go about skipping questions or crossing out letters A and B.
Giving students practical skills is what amounts to talented adults in tomorrow’s world. So thank you MCPS, for taking one step in the right direction.
Column by the MoCo Student Opinions Editor Darian Garcia of Richard Montgomery High School