Day 132 (of 188) re ‘final exams’ w thanks to @ls_gibson and @drjolly for stretching my thinking
Leading into spring break, there were a couple of tweets that got my attention; one brought may attention to this article: http://news.nationalpost.com/news/canada/the-death-of-the-exam-canada-is-at-the-leading-edge-of-killing-the-final-for-good – the others from @ls_gibson talking about already seeing the “back in my day” backlash and @drjolly who always pushes my thinking ‘just enough’ to get my brain going on my commutes & long drives!
Death to the final. I’m for it (and for anyone who has followed my journey into eportfolios instead of report cards, this would be no surprise). But let me set out some key points as to my “why”:
-as a student in BC, I never had to write a provincial (or any Grade 12) exam. This was in large part due to the timing of my fathers passing. Now, I know that had I written them, in many (all) cases my overall grade % would have likely increased (though my recollection of my state of mind may be a tad ‘off’). But upon reflection, it did no harm for me to not write them; I got into university – got married – got a job – even became a principal. Wurkt fer mee!
-I did have a problem with a key ‘final exam’ in university where I ‘misinterpreted’ the main question. I was shocked by my final mark (yes, it was a failure) and I went to see the professor where we managed to have a good discussion about my answer to the question – and after a short time he did accept that my “reading” of the question (and the importance of punctuation) could have led me to my interpretation – but because I was the only one…….well, sometimes final means final.
-even the weekly spelling tests became a source of contention – I had a son (and mom) who LOVED memorizing the words and getting perfect scores. The trouble was, he never spelled any of those works correctly beyond ‘the test’. He would memorize, regurgitate and start anew. Really glad I discovered ‘making words’ strategies instead – much longer, deeper gains in learning!
-I had troubles creating my “common” final exams while teaching in secondary schools; often times the work we did in my classroom was similar in topic, but definitely not in lesson style. How could “we” create a ‘common final’. Then I learned about scantron…..if I ever create another scantron test, I promise that every answer will be “A”.
-I often hear some saying “don’t you want your doctor to have all A’s” – and I twist and turn with that question – most of the people who actually “want” to practice medicine already have their brains working in specific ways – knowing the names of the 206 bones is “fun” (my own daughter challenges her memory of Pi ‘for kicks’ – 35 digits consistently up to 65 at one point….) and testing situations are often ‘pretty easy’ – with the only ‘challenge’ being to get that perfect score. I’m more interested in having a doctor who has had ‘hands on’ experience – especially a surgeon? Who do you want – one that aced every written test but a little iffy on the practical experience and considers practice time ‘a waste’ or the one with several successful operations, spends time in authentic practice but kind of had a tough time with written exams because of _______). I want my student who last year discovered that she quite liked the field of medicine after our SOLE discovery of the human body systems – passion from a 10 year old with a bunch of future learning…? count me in!
-I remember quite well playing “the game of school”. Figuring out what would ‘most likely’ be on a test, remembering it as best as I could for 6-48 hours and then moving on. “Just tell me what I need to know for the test” is different than “Learning”. If it’s all about the test, just provide the test at the start of the week (since that’s what has been determined to be the only thing ‘of value’) and check to see how the memorization went. Maybe even keep building on the tests so that longer-term memory can be checked on too; one page per week?
I know for many, there is great comfort in ‘final exams’, in part because it is ‘what we did back in the day’, and partly as a way to “compare one classroom vs another classroom”. I just have heard too many (teachers, pvps, ass’t supes) comment that ‘testing confirmed what they already thought/knew….’. I’d be hoping that we could do different the ways we confirm what students have/have not learned and make it part of a feedback loop on their ongoing learning journey.
*update* after I posted this, I picked up my oldest girl who happily told me she was essentially ‘done’ math (2nd time that she’s been able to accelerate herself thanks to some very supportive teachers) BUT she can’t write the course ‘final exam’ because the questions might then be available for others to know ahead of time. This leads to more questions than answers…