BC Expert: School District Eliminates Final Exams
Lynch School of Education
Arnold is an expert in college readiness, access to higher education and college persistence of low-income and first-generation students, high school valedictorians, and college students in general. She studies the connections between education and adult life; her research follows “best case” groups of students (high school valedictorians, Rhodes Scholars, and low income students of color from innovative high schools) across the transitions from high school to college to career. A former dean of students, Arnold’s work centers on the ways in which individual, organizational, and social factors come together to perpetuate inequality in individuals’ educational opportunities, higher education experiences, and subsequent life chances. She has published numerous articles in academic journals and is the author or co-author of five books including: The Ecology of College Readiness; College Student Development and Academic Life: Psychological, Intellectual, Social, and Moral Issues; Remarkable Women: Perspectives on Female Talent Development; Lives of Promise: What Becomes of High School Valedictorians; and Beyond Terman: Contemporary Longitudinal Studies of Giftedness and Talent.
Final exams are about to take a final curtain call in Danbury, CT, where the board of education has voted to do away with the anxiety-ridden tests beginning next year. The district feels too much instructional time is dedicated to preparing for and taking the tests and predicts other districts around the country will follow.
“These kinds of exams are not authentic assessments, that is, they’re not relevant or valid for things that are needed in the real world,” says Karen Arnold, Ph.D., professor in the Lynch School of Education at Boston College and an expert on college preparedness. “I think they probably made the right call in getting rid of the typical final exam, which is time away from instruction, high stress, and doesn’t provide feedback.”
Arnold says more and more colleges have been dropping final exams in recent years.
“The problem as far as I’m concerned is that bad exams with no feedback are worthless, whether they’re finals or any other test,” says Arnold, a former dean of students, who agrees final exams can offer a measurement of where a student is. “But if it’s measuring multiple choice and information recall, that is an outmoded thing to test. Who cares? You’ve got it in your pocket on your iPhone.”
Instead, Arnold says the best tests are those that include integration, critical thinking, and feedback.
“A good test that is an authentic, integrative, and summative experience and from which you do get feedback is worthwhile to have at the end of the semester,” says Arnold, author of five books including The Ecology of College Readiness and College Student Development and Academic Life: Psychological, Intellectual, Social, and Moral Issue. “It causes students to go back and practice and review; they study it again, they go back and look at things they didn’t understand the first time. They have to think critically and across a bunch of material. It’s not the same kind of thing as being tested in chunks. It’s your chance to put it all together and really learn in a deep way and I think it’s also really important that it’s for these kinds of exams that students talk to each other. They study in groups, they ask questions of their peers, they talk to their teachers so if done with best practices, it can be a really important learning experience.
“I think we’re going to see more and more districts drop the final because I think most tests in general and final exams do not use these kinds of best practices of being real-world relevant, integrative, nor do they provide feedback. So I think dumping the typical final exam is probably a good idea and will spread just as it has through colleges.”
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