Focus on final exams
On Jan. 2, the Clarke County School District informed schools of a policy change, making all final exams count as 20 percent of a student’s grade.
During the afternoon of Jan. 2, the day before the 2011-12 spring semester began, Clarke Central High School teachers and staff were informed of a new Clarke County School District policy: all final exams are now worth 20 percent of a student’s grade, a five percent increase from previous semesters.
Clarke Central High School math department teacher Eric McCullough discusses the new Clarke County School District policy that states that all final exams will be worth 20 percent of a student’s grade with CCHS junior Sophie Chen. Photo by Carlo Nasisse.
“This was a district policy (that) was thrown (at) the teachers. I think we were caught off-guard,” CCHS Assistant Principal Reginald Thomas said.
The policy change was implemented due to a Georgia state decision to cancel the Georgia High School Graduation Tests earlier this school year, which required the End-of-Course Tests to be raised to 20 percent of a student’s grade.
“I think part of this (change) came to make it consistent, because it was inconsistent (before). We had two different expectations,” Thomas said.
During the summer before the 2011-12 school year, school districts in Georgia were informed of the change in percentages. The CCSD implemented a newly-established policy to align all final exams with EOCTs one semester later.
“The state regulations don’t come at us (in a) timely way, so even if we get it late in the summer, we have to talk to instructional counsel,” CCSD Superintendent Dr. Philip Lanoue said. “The board approved the policy in the fall and I said, ‘Let’s wait and do it in the spring.’”
Although Thomas does not agree to the decision to make the policy change in January, he is looking forward to seeing the results.
“It’ll probably, unfortunately or fortunately, be one of the things where it will die down and go away. Then boom, in May when we take the finals, it’s going to make a difference,” Thomas said.
When CCHS science department teacher Julia Seward was notified of the new policy, she was not given an explanation from the CCSD of why the change was made.
“I find that the part (of the change which) is not good is, if you took the Biology test the first semester then it counted (as) 15 percent, but if you took Biology this semester, it counts 20 percent,” Seward said. “That’s not playing by the same rules.”
Seward believes the majority of affected students will be those who take regular-level classes, as they will now have to have a higher average class score before taking the final test to pass the class.
“I think it’ll change some grades. (Students) who are on the borderline will not make it,” Seward said.
Even though students’ grades will be affected, Seward says it will not change her teaching style.
“It doesn’t affect me, because I still have to teach the same material,” Seward said. “I will personally stress, but it won’t change how I teach because (I am) already stressed over 15 percent. (Teachers) are already stressed over the importance of a high-stakes test.”
Lanoue explains that with the annulment of the GHSGT and the changes relating to the EOCTs and final exams, it will be easier to determine why some students are not meeting standards.
“I think it (will mean) much more accountability for teachers (and) it should. If I have a class of English students, and 20 percent pass the End-of-Course Test, you’re going to scratch your head and go, ‘What did I do?’” Lanoue said. “(For) a graduation test, since it was done in your junior year, there are a lot of gaps you could point to. You can’t point to a gap if you’re in my English class and I can’t (help you) pass the End-of-Course Test.”
Different reactions were heard among CCHS students when they were informed of the new policy on Jan. 3 and were directed to mark the change on their syllabi.
“I am personally not a very good test-taker, so I don’t feel like a test will reflect how well I do in a class,” CCHS junior Sophie Chen said. “Often times, no matter how hard you work, no matter how hard you feel like you prepare, you never do as well (on the final exam). It doesn’t really reflect the amount of effort you put into that class.”
For CCHS junior Suzanne Jurado, the higher percentage helps her prepare for college.
“I think 20 percent is an acceptable value of finals,” Jurado said. “Students adjusting to more valuable finals could be a good thing, because often college classes have exams being worth 50 percent or more of your final grade.”
CCHS sophomore Austin Johnson believes, for students, the additional value of the final test could cause students to worry more about the exam.
“I liked the (15 percent) policy better. I think this puts more pressure on us. If we don’t get the grade that we want (on the final), then it’s going to affect our grade more,” Johnson said. “It’s always going to be in the back of my mind.”
As for teachers, Johnson does not feel the teaching will be affected.
“I think (teachers) will teach the same, they will just enforce (the finals) more,” Johnson said.
With classwork, homework and tests being worth five percent less, Thomas believes students will notice a difference.
“Now your comprehensive final exam is worth more which could affect your average in a class. I think the body of work that you show throughout a semester should be worth something,” Thomas said. “(For) somebody who tests well, it could be beneficial for them. (For) students who are not necessarily (good) test-takers, there is going to be a five percent moderation.”
Lanoue, however, feels the change could be positive for students as they are no longer required to take the GHSGTs.
“I would much rather see someone be assessed with what they do in their class for a grade for 80 percent of the time, than to be judged on one test in your junior year (that determines) whether you’re actually going to graduate,” Lanoue said. “To me, it’s much more student friendly.”
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