Save the tests
Eliminating final exams in Montgomery high schools would do students a disservice.
WHAT MIGHT seem like good news for Montgomery County students is more likely to hurt schools than to help them: The county is rethinking high school final exams and may eliminate them altogether. Though we’re sympathetic to the plight of exam weary teenagers, scrapping finals is not the way to ensure better teaching and learning in Montgomery.
This year, Maryland schools adopted new exams developed by the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC). These tests, aligned with the Common Core State Standards, are valuable tools for gauging student achievement. But they also cut weeks out of instructional time, prompting criticism that students spend too many hours taking tests and too few actively learning in the classroom. In response to these concerns, school board officials are considering proposals to cut down on exams. The plan to eliminate twice-yearly finals and replace them with smaller assessments throughout marking periods has emerged as the front-runner.
Certainly, schools should examine how they can allay exam exhaustion for over-tested students. As Maryland State Superintendent of Schools Lillian M. Lowery has suggested, there’s a good chance manyof the tests piled on top of the state-mandated PARCC exams and Maryland High School Assessments are redundant. These assessments should go on the chopping block in favor of alternative modes of evaluation. But high school final exams play an important role not just in holding schools accountable for teaching failures but also in preparing students for the next academic step: To succeed in college, students must study a broad body of material and understand both the big picture and the fine details. Those are exactly the kinds of skills final exams help students hone, and that’s why they’re necessary.
Students enrolled in Advanced Placement and International Baccalaureate courses already do not take additional final exams. And PARCC exams test only a few subjects, such as algebra and English, while the standardized Maryland assessment exams required by the state cover just biology and government. That leaves plenty of classes where, without finals, students would have no cumulative assessment at the year’s close. That shouldn’t happen. And even in PARCC-tested courses, until school officials have determined that, like an AP or IB test, a PARCC exam covers the same material with the same specificity as a final exam would — and that mastering this material requires the same level of studying— that class’s test should also stay.
Final exams may seem painful in the moment, but in the long run they are profitable to both schools and students. In a county where students have been failing algebra exams at high rates for years, the answer is not to remove the tests: it is to equip students to handle them. Getting rid of finals would be a shortsighted move that will not do Montgomery County high schools any favors.