Students and teachers compare RQAs and exams
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The MCPS Board of Education replaced traditional two-hour semester exams with Required Quarterly Assessments (RQAs) beginning this school year, forcing students and teachers to adjust to the new tests and academic calendar.
Previously, semester exams covered content from two quarters and were taken in the span of two hours during finals week at the end of each semester. RQAs only cover the content of one quarter, can be given at different times during the quarter and can last anywhere from one class period to over a week.
Many students reported less stress with the new system because they only had to remember one quarter’s worth of content.
“I was definitely less stressed because we weren’t studying for three tests at once,” freshman Melissa Romero said. “I’m kind of disorganized and it’s hard for me to find all my papers at the end of the semester to review.”
But some students thought that the lessened academic load wasn’t challenging enough.
“It doesn’t mean as much to get an A anymore,” freshman Ben Lorence said. “I literally didn’t have to study for any of my RQAs; they’re too easy.”
Both students and staff were concerned that without a cumulative, heavily-weighted semester exam, students will be less prepared for college grading systems which often rely on exams to determine grades.
Math department head Russell Rushton said different staff members have critiqued how the RQAs were written, how teachers had to adhere to a county standard for grading certain problems, and the Board of Education’s failure to reduce the amount of time spent testing.
“It took them two weeks of school to get through the four sections of some world language exams,” Rushton said. “How can the BOE think that this wasn’t more testing time for students and teachers, which is what they said was the main reason for eliminating final exams in the first place?”
I have yet to talk to a teacher who thinks that the RQAs were actually better than the semester final exams that we had for the better part of the last 25 or so school years.— Math department head Russell Rushton
Teachers also had less time at the end of the semester to solidify grades, which some teachers felt affected their ability to manage and evaluate students.
“There were so many complications they didn’t consider,” math teacher Michelle Holloway said. “There was extremely little planning time at the end of the semester for changing final grades and planning make-up tests. It was very stressful.”
French teacher Michele Beach, who worked alongside county central services to create parts of the French RQAs, said she understands the idea of using Integrated Performance Assessments (IPAs) on world language exams to evaluate a student’s communication skills in the three modes of communication (Interpretive, Presentational, Interpersonal), but it wasn’t executed properly.
“It’s a good exercise learning to read authentic texts, which is the philosophy of using IPAs on world language RQAs,” Beach said. “But, I don’t think the county is doing it the right way because the emphasis is on the multiple choice, instead of the process.”
Although RQAs have reduced the required amount of review for students by focusing only on information learned within the quarter, scrapping semester exams was, in general, widely unpopular among teachers.
“In talking to teachers across the different subject areas, I have yet to talk to a teacher who thinks that the RQAs were actually better than the semester final exams that we had for the better part of the last 25 or so school years,” Rushton said. “Believe it or not, I cannot honestly give you one good thing about the RQAs that I’ve heard from the staff here at Whitman, in any department.”