No final, no problem


Alice Yu

infographic by Megan Goyette; source: Western Oregon University
[dropcap style=”flat” size=”2″]T[/dropcap]he crushing stress and terror surrounding students during finals week isn’t a novel concept. From instigating all-night study sessions to releasing an explosion of finals week memes on the internet, semester-end exams are practically a nightmarish rite of passage for high school and higher education students across the world.
Maryland’s Montgomery County’s Board of Education started the 2015-16 school year by putting an end to something that plays a hand in the chronic stress 50 percent of high schoolers feel: semester-end exams. The district voted unanimously to eliminate finals and replace their usual two-hour exams with shorter tests, projects or portfolios throughout the semester, focusing more on learning than testing.
While a majority of teachers at RBHS still administer paper-and-pencil finals, students who have an ‘A’ in personal finance are exempt from their semester-end final, as they should be.
If the purpose of a final is to test comprehension, the unit tests students take during the semester should take care of that department. Ensuring students still retain information learned during a semester or two does not guarantee they’ll always remember the quadratic formula or how long the Hundred Years’ War actually lasted.
Subjecting students to the stress of memorizing facts just to forget those facts hardly establishes an educated pool of young adults. Rather, the pressure to become a walking computer misdirects the focus of education away from learning and deeper into testing.
In a research report published by Audrey L. Amrein and David C. Berliner, schools that implemented high-stakes testing policies did not yield higher SAT, ACT or Advanced Placement test scores. Based on the current scheduling of finals and when grade reports are due, these semester exams don’t help students learn.
While the final exam offers little chance to improve and learn, the pressure of finals can be beneficial and used as a training experience for only a few select courses. For Advanced Placement classes, administering a final structured in a similar fashion to the AP exam gives students a chance to practice testing in the time constraints of the actual AP exam. Unfortunately, a mere 90 minutes isn’t enough testing time to simulate most of the AP exams.
[quote font_size=”0″ align=”left” bgcolor=”#” color=”#” bcolor=”#” arrow=”no”]For the sake of education and sanity, students should advocate for a stipulation that excuses students with an ‘A’ from taking the semester final.[/quote] If students still would like to test themselves, they still get the chance, but they have the option to opt out. As of right now, department chairs are the ones who decide the future of finals and almost all of the department chairs decide to administer a semester final.
Putting this policy in place will no doubt call for countless meetings with faculty, but the students have the power to change finals week. From creating the current grading scale and phone policy, students have implemented change for years through Student Coalition.
Don’t be afraid to attend their meetings to make a more learning-friendly policy in the future.