Teachers in Ontario, Canada, recently called for a ban on standardized testing (“Standardized Testing, Perception, & Reality”). It appears there is increased interest in abandoning the test mania that has dominated education for the past fifteen years. A high school in New Hampshire has decided to eliminate midterm and final exams (“Finals and Midterms are Out of School in Plaistow”). Donald Woodworth, principal of Timberlane Regional High School, estimates that teachers will pick up eight additional instructional days by eliminating midterms and finals. If anything, his estimate is low.
As someone who spent over 30 years in public schools, I know many teachers spend several days reviewing and preparing students for these tests. Put it all together and it’s likely that teachers will pick up close to 15 additional days of instruction. More importantly, that’s additional days for students to learn. (And, after all, one of our primary objectives is helping students learn, not sorting and ranking.)
Teachers at Timberlane Regional High School will continue to assess students. Tests will be given. Projects will be assigned. Ongoing formative assessment will allow teachers to match instruction to the needs of their students. The emphasis will be on authentic assessment, ensuring that students can apply what has been learned, something infinitely more important than doing well on a midterm or final exam. These educators are not abdicating their responsibility; they are embracing it and have come up with a process that promotes increased learning. And for the “we pay too much of our hard-earned money in taxes” crowd: this doesn’t cost any extra money and provides a lot more instruction.
Change sometimes brings fear. Understandably, some Timberlane parents are apprehensive about dropping midterm and final exams. One expressed concern that her son would be at a competitive disadvantage when he enters college and final exams are required. It might not be as much of an issue as she thinks. The faculty of Arts & Sciences at Harvard has eliminated final exams (“Harvard profs dropping final exams”). While professors can choose to give a final exam, they will need to fill out a request to do so. The default position at Harvard will be no finals. There are other prestigious colleges and universities that have a long history of eschewing final exams, opting for more meaningful opportunities for students to demonstrate learning.
Another parent wondered, “If you don’t have a test, where is your motivation to learn going to come from?” I want that parent to know the drive to learn is wired into us, as I discuss in both Activating the Desire to Learn and The Motivated Student. Before there were schools, people learned. And the learning that occurs before our children begin school is truly impressive – all without rewards, final exams, “Student of the Month” recognition, or the threat of non-promotion. The motivation to learn comes from within, aided by inspiring teachers who engage students with relevant material.
Congratulations to Timberlane Regional High School for giving students an opportunity to increase their learning and demonstrate their competence in a meaningful way through authentic assessment. I hope others follow suit.