Final Exams: Easy Failsafe or True Assessment?


With less than one day until the end of the 2009-2010 school year, only  one thing is one every Leesville students mind: the End-Of-Course (EOC) tests.  Now, since EOCs are worth 20-25% of our final grades, it is perfectly understandable that some students are anxious and some students are excited. 

After all, depending on how well one does, an EOC has the potential to elevate your grade to the next bracket or simply solidify a shaky, passing grade.

What I didn’t anticipate, however, is how many times I’d hear someone refer to their EOC as ‘easy.’  Of course, that’s not necessarily a bad thing.  I mean, I can’t be upset that a majority of Leesville seems to believe they’ll be passing all of their classes.  But I can wonder whether or not that should be because of an ‘easy’ EOC.

EOCs aren’t supposed to be a free pass into the next grade.  The tests are meant to determine whether or not a student is ready to move on to the next level, not to guarantee that we have one last chance to pass.

Five years ago, the North Carolina State Board of Education established new high school exit standards requiring first time rising freshmen in 2006-2007 and beyond to pass five EOC assessments (Algebra I, Biology, English I, Civics & Economics, and U.S. History) and to successfully complete a graduation project.

Since then, the graduation project proposal has become just that—an option, something seniors can fall back on if they’re just shy of graduating.  And considering the high amount of time and resources necessary to complete a graduation project, I understand why the NC Board reconsidered that particular aspect of the change.

What I don’t understand is why exams seem to be following the same path of least resistance.  Finals are basically divided into three types of tests: standardized, teacher-made, and VOCATS, an offset of standardized testing that, according to most students, is the easiest of them all.

Now, in general, I have no problem with any form of testing, regardless of their effortless nature.  But, specifically in the core classes (i.e. math, English, science, and history), I’m not sure why a teacher-made exam should be worth a smaller percentage of our final grades (20%) then a standardized test would be in their place (25%).

Teachers are the ones who taught students what they need to know.  Moreover, teachers are the ones better suited to understand how much their students should be able to retain and comprehend from their course. 

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not hoping we can add more to our teachers’ workload by making them prepare every final exam.  But the thing is that for the most part, teacher-made exams are the accumulated collaborations of the teachers from each respective department, which, in my opinion, only serves to elevate the quality of a teacher-made exam.

In comparison, it is almost as if a standardized test is more a subtle test of a teacher’s ability to adhere to teaching the course requirements rather than a measure of their students’ progress.

Yet according to Wake County’s Education First NC School Report Cards report, the percentage of fully licensed (initial or continuing) high school teachers is 90% of the state and 97% of the district, which sort of begs the question of where the doubt comes from.

If anything, it’s time to ignore the admittedly braggart tendencies of the average high schooler and take a good, long look at their actual achievement levels. 

North Carolina maintains target goals that schools must meet to qualify under the federal No Child Left Behind Act as making Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP). In the 2008-2009, Education First discovered that only 39% of high school students in the state and 13% in the district meet those requirements.  Yet, somehow the percentage of high schoolers who pass both the reading and math tests is in the high 60s and low 70s.

The disparity in the numbers must come somewhere between the classroom and the annual classroom reports. 

It would be easier to believe that those students who feel like they breezed through their exams with a commendable grade are just fooling themselves, but somehow I don’t think that’s the problem. 

Frankly, it doesn’t matter if a final exam acts as a failsafe, a fair assessment, or both. 

Regardless of how each of us would prefer the testing, I doubt anyone wants to watch students graduate in smaller increments over larger spans of time.  But at some point, the school system must make sure that a student is truly ready to move on to a higher level of schooling.  At some point, students have to endure a real final exam.


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