This seems like such a great idea, but I have never heard of this being done before. The Timberlane Regional School District in New Hampshire has decided, effective immediately, that there will no longer be any midterm or final exams within the school district. They are doing this for the purpose of adding eight additional teaching days during the year. As long as students are still expected to learn the same material, and can prove to the teacher that they have indeed mastered the material as expected, I really like this idea of adding additional teaching time to the year, and removing high stress exams. This is particularly important for special education students, and students who may have mastered the material, but get so anxious about exams that they don’t test well.
Comparing Massachusetts to New Hampshire, lately it seems that New Hampshire is one step ahead of Massachusetts in terms of doing the right thing for the education of its students. One other important area where New Hampshire has implemented a policy that I consider to be far better than a similar policy in Massachusetts is in regard to the implementation of NCLB (No Child Left Behind). NCLB requires testing of students to ensure that the school system is providing a proper education for the students. It does not require the passing of high-stakes exams as a requirement for a high school diploma. Massachusetts, for some reason, has twisted NCLB such that the required testing has become a requirement for a high school diploma (MCAS). New Hampshire has made it very clear that it has no plans to implement such a high-stakes approach to the NCLB requirement.
So why did I bring up the issue of MCAS in Massachusetts? In Massachusetts, schools teach to the test so much, because of the high stakes aspect of MCAS, that they unfortunately don’t have enough time to teach much else. Maybe that is an oversimplification, but I hear over and over from both teachers and students how frustrating it is that so many days are dedicated to the MCAS material rather than to other useful materials that students really should learn. Given the Massachusetts approach, the opportunity to add 8 additional teaching days – perhaps unrelated to MCAS – sounds like a wonderful idea. Students in Massachusetts have enough stress as it is. As long as there is a way to ensure proper evaluation of students, I like what Timberlane is doing, and wish that Massachusetts would implement a similar policy.
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I really have to think about how I feel about getting rid of mid term and finals at the high school level. I really don’t think colleges will change to formative assessment anytime soon so those children might not be prepared for the organizational strategies needed, study skills needed and stress of college. I recently took a job at a well established charter school that does complete formative assessment. I can’t wait to see really where the kids are at compared to public school. Your point on MCAS is well taken….teaching to the test is going on constantly. MCAS focuses on the wrong skills, keeps kids from being flexible and does not teach them how to apply strategies across curriculum.
As it turns out, some Massachusetts schools have done this as well. Pentucket Regional School District last year implemented something called “Habits of Learning” in place of Final Exams for all Juniors. My daughter was a junior and the HOL was a presentation that she had to develop that integrated all of the various learning experiences she had during that year.
The up side was that the student could demonstrate what they learned in a manner other than the typical structured test setting. This could be good or bad depending on how your student does at presentations.
However it did not count for a grade, it was a pass/fail. Translation: a lot of work for no recognition. Some students look forward to finals as a way to bring their grade up.