Are final exams worth it? NLESD trying to find out through new pilot program

The CEO of the Newfoundland and Labrador English School District says a pilot project that eliminates final exams in grades 7 to 9 says the point is to determine whether year-end exams are the best way to evaluate students.

Tony Stack, also the district's director of education, told CBC News that final exams take up a large chunk of time at the end of the school year that could be better used for instructional time in the classroom. 

"There are many, many ways the students can demonstrate their learning besides a summative, end-of-the-year big exam like that," Stack said on Monday. 

The three-year pilot project is not mandatory. Schools can opt in to the program this year and revert back to year-end exams next year if they feel the program has made little or no difference. Others can opt in next year if they feel it's best to wait a year to have make a better-informed decision. 

Regardless of when a school joins the program it can still revert back to holding final exams, Stack said.     

"We just want to get some data, to get some analysis, to see if it's really making a difference, is it worth the effort," he said.

Staff, council make the decision

Stack said school principals will bring the idea to staff and then to school councils council to make a decision. 

However, Stack said schools in N.L. are among only a handful across the country that hold final exams at the end of the year for Grade 7 and Grade 8 students. Subjects that have final exams right now include science, math and English.

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"The percentages that are assigned to that are no more than 20 per cent. In one case it's 10 [per cent]," Stack said. 

"Do they need that big effort at the end to concentrate and produce in an hour or two hours — which is an artificial construct if you think about it — a whole year of learning that you're trying to package into a paper and pencil test in that limited time?"

Benefits

Stack said the real benefits are in having extra time in the classroom to teach students what they need to know, adding that there's a real focus on deep learning, which emphasizes teaching global competencies.

Subjects such as math and English are cornerstone programs, Stack said, but now schools in the pilot program can focus on collaboration, communication, critical thinking, creativity, citizenship and character. 

"That's what employers want to see. So when someone says to me, 'You have to prepare them for the real world,' well, we are," Stack said. 

"We'll have more time to do those deep-learning activities if we can husband our resources and safeguard that instructional time."

If schools sign on to the project, exams will be replaced by more evaluation that occurs over the course of the year.

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Stack said he expects the program to have substantial uptake from schools across the province. 

Students split

Some Grade 7 students at Macdonald Drive Junior High were split on their opinions about having final exams versus removing final exams, although many agreed that exams are a source of anxiety and stress. 

"I think it's good because it gives us more time to warm up to the matter," said Grade 7 student Cullen O'Connor.

But Grade 7 student Calvin Dawe said he likes the idea cramming for an exam to make the grade. 

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