In a recent decision made by the faculty, Nantucket High School has officially opted out of scheduled midterm and final assessments. The decision was announced to parents in the most recent Whaler Chronicle.
According to NHS Principal Dr. John Buckey, the idea has been discussed many times during faculty meetings for the past four or five years. “This year I went to the faculty and said ‘let’s do this experiment,’” said Buckey. “This is my thinking behind doing it [which is to] give a month of instructional time back. Each quarter will count toward 25 percent of the final grade - so you don’t have to put anything in the midterm or final column: grades [will] average out similarly.”
One of the main concerns among teachers regarding midterms and finals is the amount of time preparing the class for the exam - time that they could use to teach material or to extend into chapters their students are struggling with. Taking away midterms and finals will essentially give back an entire month of valuable instructional time because each midterm and final week has a week of review prior to the test.
“We’re not going to develop a special schedule,” said Buckey. “In the past, we’ve taken a week in January and done two exams a day, two hours each, and then we did the same thing at the end of year.” In past years, “teachers said that they would spend the week before preparing all of the exams and reviewing for the material. However, recently, some teachers have begun to question the midterm schedule and have asked administrators ‘do we need to use this way?’ and ‘can we do assessments differently?’”
However, many teachers expressed concern with this decision, fearing that it is not giving students “real world experience” as many colleges still actively participate in midterm and final exams.
“For those of us who have been to college, I know I had a reading period before and then just a huge push of exams and it’s really an experience and it’s hard as a student in college to get through that, and I think us not giving them that experience before college is a huge disservice to them,” said english teacher Paige Martineau.
Buckey and other teachers commented on the fact that the English Department felt the most impacted by the not having the assessments.
“We surveyed students - graduates from the last four years - when this came up in faculty meetings to see how they felt our midterms and finals had prepared them and most of the feedback was ‘my English finals prepared me well for my English courses, but my other finals didn’t,’” said Buckey.
Martineau also noted that students not taking Advanced Placement classes (which conclude with an AP exam at the end of the year), will miss the benefit of practicing the rigors of test taking - which may be helpful as they look ahead to the SAT and ACT standardized tests which required by many colleges. “Not every student sitting in our classrooms are going to take the AP courses and have the prep work that AP courses really have to do to prepare our students for the AP exams,” said Martineau. “So I’m worried more for our CP students who are not necessarily taking AP exams and getting that direct prep work for tests like our AP students are. I’m worried for those students who will not have the experience of sitting for an exam that requires a lot of their minds and their bodies.”
English teacher Liz Reinemo commented the stamina that is required to take long, strenuous tests and how not having midterms and finals will make it more difficult for students to get the practice they need in order to succeed under time constraints and pressure.
“I think a bigger concern for eliminating midterms is stamina and we want our students to be able to really perform on high stakes tests and to be able to have the endurance to complete them and to work as hard on question one-hundred than they did on question two,” said Reinemo.
The math and science departments also had concerns, but from a different angle, worrying that without these tests in place, students will no longer have incentive to remember anything they have learned in past chapters because they know they won’t be tested on it.
“I will certainly be able to cover more content than ever with my AP students, as well as with my honors and CP classes,” said chemistry teacher Patrick Gregorich. “I just worry that once they take a test on a unit they no longer have any motivation to remember anything they learned from that unit.”
Others were more optimistic, including math and personal finance teacher John Barone who said, “I think having more instruction time is good for filling in some of the gaps that students might miss or have missed in years passed, and just making their foundation for learning stronger. I think specifically for math it builds on itself, and there are a lot of things that kids either forget or aren’t strong with so filling in those gaps and having that extra time is going to be valuable.”
Buckey also pointed out that other Massachusetts public schools already have this in practice, including Bourne, Walpole, Silverlake, Swansea, Nipmuc, Wellesley, Sacred Heart, and Innovative Charter. Other schools that have been considering eliminating midyear and final exams include Uxbridge, Norwood, Manchester Essex, North Middlesex, Douglas, and Lincoln-Sudbury.
“The interesting thing is when I put this out on the high school listserv that we’re doing no midterms and no finals and the number of people that got back to me and said ‘our school has been talking about this for years, let us know how it goes’ or ‘that’s awesome that you’re giving a month of instructional time back to teachers’ and then others said ‘we are currently not doing midterms but we still do finals,’” said Buckey. “So even though it’s an experiment for us, it’s something that’s in practice in other Massachusetts schools and it’s something that many other schools are looking to do as well.” Whether or not the change in school policy proves to be effective will be determined at the end of the year, when the faculty joins again to discuss the highs and lows of the school year.
“I think we want our kids to be ready for college and to be ready for what they encounter and I’m always up to try new things,” said Reinemo. “I know that it’s an experiment, and I think the end result on whether or not we do this again next year really needs to come from the faculty about whether or not this worked well, what would we do, is there some sort of hybrid that needs to happen, what data do we have that can make us better and make our students better.”
Reinemo and other teachers agreed that the four weeks of instructional time they have gained will be valuable - and they can, of course, still schedule assessments in order to keep their students thinking and practicing taking timed tests.
“As a department we’ve talked about using the time to add more poetry and an actual poetry unit and a short story unit at the end of the year,” said Martineau. “I have already added to my honors English II class a podcast assignment at the end of the first book that we read.”
Buckey also noted that the administration will be working with teachers to create an entirely new calendar so students don’t have five or six periods of testing in a row and there are smaller assessments throughout the year. Whether or not the experiment will be successful is yet to be determined, but based on feedback from other schools who have eliminated midyear and final exams, NHS faculty is optimistic.