Districts ditch finals to cut testing time

Eliminating district exams may spread further with the growing opt-out movement, an expert says
By: | Issue: November, 2015
October 27, 2015

Maryland’s largest district dropped final exams for many high school students this fall, with more of the state’s schools following suit to cut back on time students spend preparing for and taking tests.

Administrators at Montgomery County Public Schools examined testing practices for its 157,000 students. They found that a high school student may take Advanced Placement, International Baccalaureate, PSAT, SAT, PARCC and Maryland state standardized tests along with two-hour final examsÑall within one year.

And the final exam scheduleÑa week of two tests per day in January and JuneÑled to a loss of instruction time, says Board of Education President Patricia O’Neill.

“There was a lot of conversation this spring about the amount of time kids spend testing,” O’Neill says. “Whatever districts can do to reduce anything you’re layering on should be done.”

This year, high schoolers who take AP, IB, PARCC or state tests will not take a final exam. In 2016-17, no student will take a final. They will be replaced with end-of-marking period assessments given during regular class periods, and may take the form of projects, labs or essays.

At press time, administrators had asked for staff and community suggestions on changing report cards, as the tests formerly counted for 25 percent of a student’s final grade.

Though some parents argue high school final exams prepare students for college, O’Neill notes that several universities including Harvard are phasing out such tests as well.

“Administrators need to look at how they can recapture time in the classroom,” O’Neill says. “You need to examine how the logistics of what you do, and the practices imposed on local schools that add stress and not value to the learning process.”

A growing trend

Montgomery County is not alone: In September, Anne Arundel County Public Schools proposed a plan to replace end-of-semester high school exams with quarterly tests. Louden County Public Schools in Virginia also recently dropped midterm and final exams as part of a districtwide move to project-based learning.

Eliminating district exams will likely spread further with the growing opt-out movement, says Deborah Stipek, a professor and former dean of the Graduate School of Education at Stanford University.

“We tend to put an emphasis on final tests at the end, when if we really want to promote better learning, we need to emphasize engaging students so they learn and understand as they go, so we can improve instruction,” Stipek says. “By the end-of-the-semester test, it’s too late.”