A large number of teachers surveyed in Montgomery County strongly oppose eliminating high school final exams, a view at odds with a recent school board vote to scrap the tests.
Many teachers think that getting rid of course final exams could have a negative effect on how well students are prepared for what they will face in college, according to an analysis of survey results from the county teachers union. Teachers valued the cumulative nature of the curriculum and the tests, the analysis found.
The strong voice of support for exams comes more than a month after the question was decided by the school board and about two weeks before the board returns to the issue for a vote on policy revisions that reflect the change.
The board decided to do away with final exams amid concerns about overtesting and lost instructional time — sentiments echoed in other school systems about other types of tests amid a growing national fatigue with the volume of student testing.
Montgomery Board of Education President Patricia O’Neill said the board would take the teacher survey results into account when it discusses the issue again in November.
“Certainly I want all kids prepared for college and the world of work,” O’Neill said. “But currently, the way the final exams are structured, it’s not working for all kids.” She mentioned high failure rates on high school math exams and the lack of learning from exam mistakes. “You see the score, but [the exams] are not handed back,” she said.
Instead of the two-hour cumulative tests at semester’s end, the district will move next school year to marking-period assessments that could take the form of tests, projects, portfolios or laboratory work. The assessments would be centrally developed, so results could be compared across the system. No longer will there be a final exam week each semester when classes stop to make way for the two-hour tests.
The teacher survey asked more than 3,000 high school educators about grading proposals the district has offered — to take effect once finals are gone — but many teachers commented more broadly, objecting to the end of final exams.
“We basically found a huge trend that no matter which of the grading options was being discussed . . . there were a lot of comments opposing the taking away of final exams,” said Jessica Wokas, an English teacher at Northwest High School and chair of the union’s high school council on teaching and learning.
No numerical results of the survey were released, which Wokas said was because the union thought its analysis and summary would better reflect the depth of comments teachers provided and spur a more detailed dialogue about assessments.
More than 2,120 educators responded — or more than 67 percent of high school educators — which union leaders described as a sign of strong interest.
Wokas said many teachers also thought final exams were important preparation for the Advanced Placement and International Baccalaureate exams many students take. Teachers said that if new cumulative assessments are created, they should be rigorous and consistent countywide in each content area.
Chris Lloyd, president of the 12,700-member Montgomery County Education Association, said many educators think that students are overtested but that final exams are more aligned to the curriculum than other tests, such as state-required PARCC exams.
Many teachers think that “if we’re going to talk about eliminating testing, we should be talking about eliminating the state testing,” he said. Teachers recognize that local officials do not control decisions about state testing. Still, “they consider the final exams useful at this point,” he said.
Many educators think that there should have been more discussion with teachers before the decision was made to end final exams, he and others said.
On grading changes, the survey results indicated that most teachers wanted to keep a final-exam category as part of the grading structure — an idea reflected in what the district calls Option 4. Exams now account for 25 percent of a course grade.
Many supported the idea of a combined approach that would keep an exam category as part of the grading calculation but move to percentage grades for each marking period, or use pluses and minuses to show differences in letter grades.
Many teachers said the weight of that assessment could be reduced to 10 or 15 percent of a course grade, although a few wanted exams to count for more, not less.
Wokas said teachers see final exam data as an important indicator for assessing district efforts in closing the achievement gaps that exist by race and ethnicity in Montgomery.
“Eliminating exams removes a lens on the achievement gap,” the analysis said.