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Wednesday, March 01, 2006

The exam controversy continues

A month ago, almost to the day, I posted an entry entitled, “Can exams reduce stress and be otherwise helpful?” I cited the following advantages to a dedicated final exam period:
  1. On a given day, students can focus on one or two exams, without other obligations such as regular classes getting in the way. Stress is reduced, not increased.

  2. Students are prepared for the process of reviewing and connecting large amouns of material for an exam, which they will have to do in college.

  3. Students aren’t left with the artificial attempt to continue working in a course after they have taken a so-called “final” exam.

  4. Teachers have time to correct exams, since they’re not teaching classes at the same time.
At today’s faculty meeting we finally had the chance to respond to the fleshed-out details of such a proposal. Not surprisingly, there was more than a little opposition, though we may still have a majority in favor of the proposal. The opposition centered on an aspect of the proposal that I hadn’t even been thinking about: some teachers object to holding all the exams in a given department on the same day at the same time. In math we’ve been doing that for years, largely for the same reason that SATs, American Math Competitions, and MCAS are given on the same day at the same time across a school, across the state, and even across the nation: it promotes honesty and security by greatly reducing the opportunity to cheat. So why do some teachers object to this idea? Because they want to give an alternative assessment that they need to hold within their own class, rather than a multi-class exam that isn’t even proctored by a student’s own teacher.

Is it only in math that there are students who cheat? Somehow I doubt it.

Won’t kids need to be prepared for long, proctored exams in college, with a great many students in one room? Sure, in high school they prefer to have their own teacher in the room so they each can ask 42 questions, but is encouraging this opportunity any kind of preparation for college? Our returning alumni say no.

We have to hope that there is enough support among the faculty so that the administration will be comfortable with eliminating our current hybrid system (where we try to hold exams within normal class periods, while other subjects are attempting to teach regular classes). As long as students are surreptitiously studying for next period’s History exam while making a pretense of being in English class, they will be doing a disservice to the History exam, to the English class, and, most important, to themselves. A dedicated exam period is the way to go.

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