Earlier this week, MCPS decided to take away semester exams in favor of smaller exams dispersed throughout the year. The decision was passed unanimously by the MCPS board, showing that a view that may seem very progressive may not be quite as controversial as presumed.
The change was proposed when students appeared to be taking more and more exams. The SAT, ACT, AP, PARCC, and countless other acronyms have become part of the daily vernacular of both teachers and students, and the weeks from January to May have become an almost continuous stream of testing. Since they cannot control the out of state tests that are being administered, the only way that the board believes they can scale back testing in general is by limiting the tests MCPS requires.
As with all drastic changes in policy, this new decision by MCPS is facing mixed reactions from students and staff members alike. There are some who believe that the additional instructional time that teachers will have will make a difference in how students learn. Skeptics, however, claim that the change may not prove to be as ideal as some hope.
For years, during one week in January and another one in June, everything is put on hold in schools across the county as students sit for their semester exams. “By doing away with these exams, you’re putting two full weeks of instruction back into the year,” said Damon Monteleone, principal of Richard Montgomery High School. “Besides, semester exams have become almost obsolete. With the PARCC, HSA, AP, and IB tests, students have enough high stakes exams,” Monteleone added.
Although this decision is a huge change, MCPS has in the past tried to reduce the end of year testing by exempting students who take AP or IB exams from their semester exams in those subjects. Eric Guerci, the current SMOB, is a staunch supporter of that policy. “This is a decision which directly benefits the students as it prevents duplicative testing and decreases stress at the end of the semester,” he explained. Stress, something that high school students are only too familiar with, is a major factor in this decision. “The HUGE exam is super stressful for everyone, so I believe that having shorter smaller assessments are more effective,” said Walter Johnson freshman Skye Oh.
Although the board voted unanimously for the decision, not everybody in the county is convinced. “I think the board is really trying to help, but I don’t think this is in the interest of those who are struggling with these exams. These exams are hard at first, but they prepare you for college exams,” said Richard Montgomery High School math teacher Laura Goetz. “The exams do take up time, but so do PARCC exams, and our exams have been tweaked until they’re good exams — PARCC is so new, and right now no one knows what they’re doing yet,” Goetz added, indicating that perhaps it is not cutting exams that is the issue, but rather which exams are cut.
Semester exams, while time consuming and stressful, serve a purpose to many students. “I understand the real world doesn’t have tests like that necessarily, but it’s necessary to practice the use of knowledge under pressure,” said Richard Montgomery sophomore Sooah Sohn.
Others, however, do not think a new system will help. “Personally I don’t think it’s an effective method of bringing back instruction time. Exams are only one week,” said Churchill junior Julianna Jing. In the future students may have more instructional time, but some students fear that without finals, the content will not be learned as thoroughly. “I learn a lot better once I have all the information and can see the bigger picture,” said Blair junior Sophia Liu, in regards to exam review.
Regardless of the various opinions, this change may be an inevitable one. Standardized testing has become one of the most debated topics in the state and the nation. Just this week, the MSEA launched an ad campaign that cost $500,000 to push back against standardized testing. “A near-unanimous consensus—95% of our members—answered that there’s “too much time” spent on standardized testing,” said MSEA press secretary Steven Hershkowitz.
As MCPS tries to redesign their testing system, only time will tell the true results of this decision.
Article by MoCo Student MCPS editor Fonda Shen of Richard Montgomery High School