More Pondering On Midterm and Final Exams…

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Last week’s initial post on the value of traditional midterm and final exams drew quite a bit of interest. Due to the great discussions that I had with people in the comment section of the original post, on Twitter, and face-to-face, I was made aware of a few posts and articles that also touched upon this topic. You can check them out below:

Are Midterms Really Necessary In A Climate Of Assessment? – By Dawn Casey-Rowe on Teach Thought

In this post, Casey-Rowe describes is clear about her disdain for mid-term exams and also the fact that we have much better options to monitor the progress of our students in this day and age.

“It’s time for midterms. I hate midterms. They take up so much time–several days of review, a week of administering, and then all the correcting. To top it off, they place students in a high-anxiety environment. I feel like I’m hazing them rather than teaching…And all of this is unnecessary. I can tell if a student understands without a week of exams. We have the technology and the pedagogy to microassess students.”

The Procedure’ and how it is harming education – via Marion Brady in The Washington Post’s The Answer Sheet

In this article Brady discusses the “The Procedure” which has come to play such an integral role in our nation’s schools. 

“The Procedure: 1. Take notes during lectures, and hi-lite key sentences in the textbook. 2. Before a big test, load the notes and hi-lited passages into short-term memory. 3. Take the test. 4. Flush short-term memory and prepare for its re-use. 

It’s no exaggeration to say that just about everybody in the country thinks The Procedure isn’t just acceptable but essential. It’s so broadly used, so familiar, so taken-for-granted, that many schools and universities go to great pains to accommodate it. Some even have rituals to enhance it. 

 The Procedure, of course, is called “cramming.” Do it well and it leads steadily up the academic ladder.

But here’s a question: Does The Procedure have anything do with educating?”

Bye-bye, Blue Books? – Harvard Magazine

This article from Harvard Magazine actually ran back in the summer of 2010 regarding a change to the faculty members’ handbook which took away the mandate of a three-hour exam at the end of each course. 

“The administrative logic aside, reversing the default procedure for scheduling examinations reflects a pedagogical reality. It appears that finals are going the way of the dodo.”

American Schools Need More Testing Not Less – by Ezekiel J. Emanual in New Republic

My short summation of this article is that it is a call for more formative assessments in an era where high-stakes standardized testing is taking to much of our focus.

“In the modern era, when information can be more easily—and accurately—Googled than mentally recalled, old-fashioned testing strikes its critics as obsolete…
But it turns out that the right kinds of assessments—frequent, short tests—can actually yield big educational benefits. It’s called the “testing effect…”

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Pondering Mid-Term and Final Exams – What’s The Point?

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My son’s school will have mid-term exams next week and Burlington High will have them the following week. As I think about this annual event, I can’t help wondering why we even bother with these types of assessments. My understanding is that, in most cases, students will be preparing for tests that require a great deal of memorization and regurgitation of information and provide very little opportunity for students to demonstrate higher-level thinking skills.


While I am sure that a large part of the reason that we continue to administer these types of exams is to prepare students for what they will face in college, I think it’s well past the time where we do things just because they may happen at institutions of higher education.  The fact is that there is little value in students cramming large amounts of factual information into their heads for examinations in this day and age.  As Clive Thompson cites in his book Smarter Than You Think in regards to the Ebbinghaus Curve of Forgetting:

“More than half of our facts are gone in an hour, about two thirds are gone within a day, and within a month we’re down to about 20 percent.”

What are we really proving with these “Major Exams” that, in many cases, count for a huge portion of the term and/or semester grade? Couldn’t we alleviate a lot of stress by doing away with them an think of more creative ways to allow students to showcase their learning? 
  

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