Superintendent: bring back exams at upcoming BOE discussions


Graphic by Iris Berendes-Dean and Jana Warner.

By Staff Editorial

Two years ago, MCPS eliminated final exams, making it easier for students to maintain their higher grades by making quarter grades trend upward. Since then, the county has faced complaints from students and teachers alike who believe that the system doesn’t prepare students for higher education.

This spring, MCPS Superintendent Jack Smith will meet with the BOE to discuss the future of the grading system.

Board members had hoped quarterly assessments would be a good replacement for exams, but these have already been phased out in some subjects, like foreign languages.

Even though exams contribute to an already-problematic overtesting concern across the county, the superintendent should request that the BOE bring back exams. Bringing back final exams would prepare students for college exams and give teachers necessary time to grade quarterly assignments during exam week.

Exams, which are prevalent in college courses, require students to recall content from the entire semester. Without semester exams in high school, students in non-AP classes aren’t required to retain information from the beginning of the school year and can forget the information shortly after learning it. This could be harmful for students in college, who regularly take cumulative exams, Emory professor Jeff Heller said.

In fact, 36 of 47 students surveyed across all grade levels said they don’t feel prepared for college exams and are encouraged to try less.

Not being required to retain information can even harm those who don’t follow the traditional college route. Learning to memorize can expand people’s creativity and ability to focus.

The current system also does a disservice to teachers who used to grade their numerous end-of-semester assignments during exam week. In a survey of 20 teachers across all subjects, all of them said they favor the return of exam weeks to avoid having too much to grade at the end of the semester.

Admittedly, the presence of exams can contribute to the overtesting of students. Students are required to take numerous standardized tests, like the PARCC and HSA to graduate. In 2015, The Washington Post reported that the average high school student spends over 21 hours on standardized testing By eliminating final exams, board members hoped to decrease such testing to comply with a 2017 Maryland bill aimed at capping the amount of standardized testing hours per year.

But final exams are far more valuable than other forms of testing. They require students to recall information from an entire course, thus preparing them for future exams in college. If there’s a test to eliminate, it shouldn’t have been the ones that most prepare students for success.

Since students are always trying to prepare for their futures, they should be exposed to a similar learning environment to that of college. The current grading system places a larger burden on teachers and inadequately prepares students for the future; the county should go back to a system that benefits everyone.