This is my fifth school and the fifth iteration of EXAMS. Each school has done things differently, but somehow the student stress remains. Even though my own school days are very far behind me, my memories of exams (trisemester or semester) are that there was less stress, less sense of impending doom.
Of course, “everyone” says that students today are overstressed, overscheduled, overwhelmed, etc. Schools have started to try to ameliorate the scheduling and the stressing, and sometimes that has an affect on testing. For example, Hackley School decided to do away with finals and moved exams to March. Reason? Having midterms in January, so close to Winter Break, meant that students didn’t truly get a break because they knew that those tests were looming. Having a final in June meant that students took a test and then got it back on “Class Day” and then told, essentially, ciao. Got an F? Ciao. Got an A? Also ciao. No way to celebrate and build on your expertise and no way to recover from a disaster. March, prior to APs, gave students an alternative that meant they could practice for an AP or have a final project that gives them an opportunity to prove themselves in a different way than by taking a test.
That seems sensible and after a year’s worry (OMG! This is 2/3 of the way through the year? how will I remember the ‘extra’ information??) students and faculty seem to have a good feeling about all this.
When the test happens aside, I wonder about the why of having a final (or midterm). Why don’t we just have a regular test in class? One of the people who works with me teaches Chinese when she’s not in the library (ok, it’s really the other way around but I like to think she’s primarily “mine”) and she’s giving an exam. But why couldn’t it just be a regular in-class test? What difference does the extra hour make? Isn’t language cumulative, so each unit builds on the previous one, which means that if you do a regular test (or one over a two day period to encompass written and oral) you know whether or not the student is learning the material . Why do you need to give one two hour exam that explores… what? What more can you ask, beyond simply asking for more? The same holds true for other subjects, not just languages. And for subjects that are unit based, why, once you’ve moved on from a unit that you covered in, say, October, do students need to recall the information in January or March if they’re never going to use that information on any other assessments that year?
This week is Exam Week which means the library is filled with students madly trying to cram information in (or back in) before sitting down for two hours to prove their knowledge. We have students working in groups, in pairs and as solo studiers. We’ve purchased coloring books and Crayons to create a #nostresszone feel in some places. Today bags of candy were handed out to give students something to keep them going during their tests. That hasn’t stopped the stress and as the day wears on it’s worse as they finish one and anticipate the next.
I get having students write essays to showcase their immediate writing skills (as opposed to the edited and thoughtfully considered essays they’ve handing in as homework). I get quizzes and tests. But the need for one exam? or two? that totally disrupts the flow of school and adds so much stress to the system? No matter when we hold them, it seems odd. We’re talking a lot about teaching the essentials and about changing how we teach. Maybe a good start would be to change how we test.