Is it fair to have midterms after remote learning?

December 15, 2020

Why we need to test after remote

With this school year being completely different from any we’ve experienced before, we need a sense of normal.

With remote learning allowing us to get back into the routine of having classes every day in block schedules, we are finally able to experience a similar routine to their past years.

Being able to experience a less independent schedule like we would in normal years is very important. It helps prepare us for college and gets us in the mindset of attending school, then coming home to work on homework and prepare for our next class. 

High school also prepares us for college in another aspect: final exams.

Although it is a different year with having to learn online, we skipped second semester finals last year. If we were to skip them again, it would only harm us for the next time we have to take an exam.

We all remember how nervous and stressed we were for our first midterms and finals during our freshman year. So if we were to continue to skip finals, then have to take their first exam in college, they would lack the experience needed to pass in the future.

And if high school is supposed to prepare us for college, we should also prepare for how independent and schedule-based college courses are. Last year, the LHS staff was very understanding and decided to discredit exams since they knew how much we were struggling. But colleges weren’t as accommodating.

Colleges throughout the United States quickly switched to remote learning using programs. Instead of letting students adjust to being online, they only modified exams for students in order to continue their existing plans for the year.

If colleges won’t be as generous to us as our LHS teachers had, students should start practicing having to make these hard adjustments now. Instead of being unprepared to test your knowledge of your future career, I think it is better to practice an exam with a subject you may never use again.

Besides not getting the practice for exams as we usually would, students also missed out on studying. Typically, we have to take the time to review all the material from the past two quarters in order to prepare for their exams. Not only is this a skill needed when moving onto other grades when the material becomes more difficult, but is needed for college too.

However, exams aren’t only a good practice for a student’s future in education. Studying for finals also helps them retain information better. In the past, when I had to go back to the beginning of the quarter to review for an exam, I sometimes didn’t even recall learning a unit, let alone remembering the information.

So I had to spend a lot of time reviewing the material until I learned it again. But in the spring last year, we didn’t take a final exam. Because of this, I never had the chance to relearn anything in my class. Ultimately, I hardly remember anything from the second semester.

And although we are now in a schedule similar to regular school and once again have regulated tests, unit tests are known to not have as much of an impact on long-term retention as final exams do.

However, I understand how this year is different than most and we may not be as prepared for midterm exams. From going to class every other day in the hybrid schedule, and now in remote, it can be difficult to practice the material as much as needed for midterms. This would mean we would most likely have to review the material more than usual. So, in this case I think we should still have exams, but not have them count as much for our semester grades.

On the other hand, teachers understand that remote learning is a struggle for students since we’re not getting the hands-on experience we usually have. Along with this difficult situation, a lot of teachers have to modify their lessons in order to make the units fit into semester one. So, I can see how midterms would be worrisome coming out of remote. 

But if midterms weren’t such a large portion of our overall semester grade this year, that could help to ease some students’ worrying. Taking away the large impact exams have on students’ grades would not only help students that could be struggling with online learning, but it would still allow them to practice the material we’ve been learning since September, which is a huge part of exams.

This is an unprecedented year, so of course everything is going to be new and difficult at first. But we can’t keep skipping over our semester finals since it will only harm us in the future. Although I know that exams this year will require a lot more preparation, I think it’s needed so we can continue to practice the steps of studying for an exam. And besides it being good practice for our future,  it will help us retain what we’ve learned so far this year.

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Why having midterm exams this year isn’t fair

Students+are+having+mixed+feelings+over+taking+exams+after+a+remote+block.

Art by Sathvik Manam

Students are having mixed feelings over taking exams after a remote block.

Midterm season has never been a particularly easy or stress free time, even when students weren’t studying from their bedrooms. Students shouldn’t be expected to have 10% of their grade depend on an exam which takes place after an unusual quarter with learning obstacles none of them have experienced before now. Times have changed, “school” doesn’t have a definite look anymore, and midterms shouldn’t either.

Students feel reassured to know that the administration has come up with a new format for these exams come January. Lowering the percentage of the semester grade from 20% to 10% was a start. Shortening the clock from two hours to one was another step in the right direction. There is no arguing those facts. But what would make them more practical is if they were 0% of our grade and didn’t take any time. 

Last semester, LHS did not have any traditional final exams. We were supposed to have a final project, but a lot of teachers and students slacked off on that. This semester, it isn’t fair for students sitting at their desks in January to be required to remember what they learned sitting on their beds in December.

As much as staff and students try, communication will be lacking during this remote period. It just won’t be perfect. And that’s okay; we are not in traditional circumstances right now, so we cannot expect traditional communication. Something as simple as being on a Google Meet and needing a question answered isn’t so easy. 

Your teacher may not even see you asking a question because your hand isn’t waving violently in front of their face. And how do you even ask a question on a Meet anyway? Do you raise your actual hand? Or use the “raise hand” feature? Do you ask it in the chat? Or just unmute yourself and interrupt?

In addition to in-class help, it is also more difficult to get hands-on help during a global pandemic. It’s not like you can just stay after school to do a review session. Staying after on a Google Meet just isn’t the same, and students need that human connection to truly be able to learn. These exams would not show the level of understanding of the material that they would if they were under “normal” circumstances. 

Classroom dynamics have changed drastically since the pandemic, but they have changed again with the implementation of fully remote learning. Some class sizes during the hybrid model have been as small as 4 or 5 people, while the other “half” is almost a regular class size at around fifteen to students. Throwing those five people who have gotten used to a more intimate, one-on-one teaching style into a Google Meet with new classmates can change the learning curve immensely. 

Those are just the flaws with the online classroom model when it comes to learning the material, but what happens if we actually have the exams? Sure, the tests will be shorter and cover less content, but that means fewer questions per unit. So if a student thrived in a specific unit, but struggled in another, there will be less opportunity for them to show their strengths. 

A more reasonable placeholder for the exams would be final projects, done the way they were intended the first time. These would be a much less black and white test but instead allow for students to show that they were in fact paying attention and showcase their strengths and learning in a more suitable way. 

Courses such as Honors Creative Writing and Mrs.Juster’s English classes partake in a semester portfolio as their midterms, rather than a standard test. Allowing students to display their works from the year that they have been able to take their time with, instead of a thesis paper they had to rush to fit into an hour. 

We all know that the amount of cheating on assignments has soared since we went remote back in March. But it’s also not like cheating is some sort of new phenomenon, there is also no denying that in many years past, students have passed along exam questions to their friends in later periods to give their grades a little boost. 

There are usually only 8 possible times a student could be taking a specific test. Now there are sixteen. This means more and more students will have the opportunity to give and get test answers, as there are fewer students taking each test at a given time. 

If teachers and the administration are taking measures to limit the amount of cheating in their remote classrooms, wouldn’t they want to attempt to prevent it during their exams, which are worth considerably more than homework? It’s not like students can ask their teachers to make ten or more versions of their tests so that it’s virtually impossible for students to share questions and answers. 

Even if a student didn’t cheat between classes, the chances that the information in their head is actually information they learned and not memorized or got off someone else’s assignment is slim to none. 

If entire classes can’t take their tests at once to keep the integrity of the exam, then they shouldn’t be given at all. If these midterm exams happen, they will pretty much be a fruitless effort. They will not reflect the students’ understanding of the content taught to them. It would be a waste of everyone’s time. 

Most of us just want a bit of normalcy woven back into our lives, but this isn’t the thing to start with. We have all experienced enough stress during these last nine months to last us a lifetime, please just give us this one week to not feel like the world is ending. 

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