High School Principals Unanimously Agree to Eliminate Midterm Exams

| May 2, 2013 | 0 Comments | Education

Principal Bill Bixby of Gar-field High School joined others at the May 2 School Board meeting to propose a pilot program to eliminate end of semester exams.

The Prince William County School Board gave their consent for county high schools to pilot a program to eliminate the long-standing practice of administering semester exams in January.

End of semester exams cover the subject matter taught in a given semester, and count for 20 percent of a Prince William high school student’s overall grade in each of his or her classes. As colleges are questioning the educational value of course exams, high schools are too reconsidering their purpose.

During the presentation to the Board, Gar-Field High School Principal Bill Bixby introduced a resolution that would allow high schools to pilot for the 2013-2014 school year, the scheduling of regular classes in place of an exam schedule, with quarter exams being offered throughout the year.

Associate Superintendent Michael Mulgrew cited a number of benefits to eliminating the mid-year assessment; chief among them was the benefit of additional instructional time.

“Instructional time gained by eradicating our current model of semester exams significantly out weights any of the academic benefits gained by semester exams,” Mulgrew stated in his presentation.

He explained that students lose at minimum three weeks of instructional time each year due to preparation for, administering of and reviewing of semester examinations, including midterm and final exams. Moreover, each of those exams require three early release days.

Administering of exams can also be negatively affected when school is canceled for inclement weather. This past January, exam were rescheduled by one snow day and another two-hour delay. This is not uncommon, since midterms coincide with snow or blizzard season.

According to Mulgrew, these exams began in the 1970s to give students the experience of collegiate-type examinations; however, they no longer serve their  intended purpose.

“At that time, PWCS did not have Advance Placement (AP), International Baccalaureate (IB) or A level examinations through Cambridge,” Mulgrew said.

Morover, when mid-term exams were first introduced, students did not take 90 minute block classes. Block scheduling allows more time for more comprehensive exams without scheduling early release days across the district.

Chairman At-Large Milt Johns inquired as to why the School Division continued this practice for so long.

While Mulgrew did not specifically answer as to why the midterms were not phased out earlier, the choice to address the issue at this time, may have to do with an educational movement in away from the midterm and final exams. A number of colleges, including Harvard University, have made end of course exams optional for professors. In response, a number of high schools across the country are too phasing out their exams. The elimination of semester exams may also be a response to the frequent testing of American students, who are required to take state exams.

However, research also suggests these types of cumulative exams are not the best measure of academic knowledge, and that it is more effective to assess student more frequently throughout the year with quarterly exams, or by teachers simply providing student with more authentic and varied form of assessment. In contrast, exams often assess students’ recollection of information that has not been addressed in months, prior to specific exam review days.

“The better approach is to have a more holistic approach to learning where it’s smaller increments, where one learns in steadier and smaller increments,” said Linda Serra Hagedorn, a professor at Iowa State University and president-elect of the Association for the Study of Higher Education in a Teaching Community article, entitled, “Final Exams are Quietly Vanishing from Colleges.”

However, before approving the pilot program to change the kinds of cumulative exams, school board members were interested in how teachers and principals felt about eliminating semester exams. Were they in agreement, Dr. Michael Otaigbe of the Coles District asked Mulgrew.

“Yes,” said Mulgrew, “There’s 2000 high school employees across the county; I would say the vast consensus are in agreement.”


© 2013, Bristow Beat. All rights reserved.

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