As the first semester at Mounds View comes to an end, there are several questions surrounding finals. “Before COVID, we would ask teachers to have a final assessment (test, project or assignment) worth a maximum of 10% of the grade for the course during the last week of the semester,” said Mounds View Associate Principal Gregory Martin.
However, that has changed due to COVID. “Currently, we are not requiring teachers to give a final exam for semester one, but many teachers may still choose to do so,” Martin said. “We trust our teachers to make informed decisions that are beneficial for our students academically and social/emotionally.”
While final exams are not off the table, many teachers are choosing not to give them out for various reasons. “There are a few reasons [why I am not giving a final] and most prominently would be the time that we lost in lab and in-class instruction,” said science teacher Aaron Ogdahl. “Personally, I felt the final project was a better way to fully encapsulate and assess what I wanted to, and I felt it would be more fair based on the disadvantages [students] were at compared to classes of previous semesters.”
Although teachers like Ogdahl are shying away from final exams this semester, they recognize their validity under normal circumstances. “I think testing/finals can do a good job of preparing students for college and provide a measurement on an array of major topics at one time, which is ultimately what many students want to be prepared for,” Ogdahl said.
Other teachers have decided to move forward with a final exam. “We decided to give a final, so they are at least somewhat knowledgeable about how to prepare for the AP test in May,” said psychology teacher Carolynne Ladd. “And more importantly, so I know what things I should review with them in the Spring before the test.”
With all of the challenges that distanced learning has presented for both students and teachers, this semester has brought about a drastic change in testing conditions. “It’s a lot easier for students to give in to cheating from what I’ve heard,” said Meg Polance, 12.
In fact, most teachers identify cheating as the main concern when it comes to testing. “Test security is virtually impossible with distance learning,” Ogdahl said. “It has to be an open note exam.”
In an attempt to curb cheating, teachers are trying to make test-taking modifications. One approach is to implement a time limit. “[Students] will be timed to limit time they could look up answers,” Ladd said. Teachers hope that by only allowing students to take the assessment in a specific time-frame, there will be no time for them to look up the answers on a test.
Cheating has not only created a dilemma for teachers when figuring out ways to test, but it has proved frustrating for students as well. “When choosing not to cheat, it can be difficult knowing there are others who are choosing to cheat,” Polance said. “It can feel a little unfair, but you just have to remind yourself that you’re doing yourself a favor in the long run.”
In addition to cheating, Ladd also brings up the difficulty of getting students to take tests at the correct times. “Getting students to take assessments when they are supposed to [is a] challenge I never imagined being concerned about in the past,” Ladd said. “But I don’t let myself lose sleep over it anymore.” Many teachers try to assign assessments during the class period or set up specific testing times using AP Classroom. However, due to obstacles such as working at a job or deciding to take the test after school, many students complete their tests on their own time, which has proven to be frustrating for some teachers.
While the purpose of finals is to assess students for their understanding of the material they learned throughout the semester, students have found it hard to engage in school with little to no in-person instruction. “Learning on Zoom has been difficult,” Polance said. “It’s a lot harder to get feedback and ask questions, not to mention technical difficulties where the screen sharing of notes wasn’t working or the teacher’s mic went out.”
The barriers in education caused by the COVID-19 pandemic have resulted in a lot of uncertainty regarding final exams. However, in the end, Mounds View’s teachers and administration are making sure to prioritize education, whether that includes a final exam or not. “I believe it is important for our students to receive a quality education,” Martin said. “ I wholeheartedly believe our teachers and staff are doing the best job they can to provide that.”