It sounds like an oxymoron. After all, what is “real-world” about taking a midyear exam? Outside of taking the LSAT or sitting for Boards, when in life do we adults ever have to take an exam covering the events of the last 5 months? Or worse, a cumulative test on all of the events in the last 10 months?
As a working mother of two, I’ll be the first to admit: I. Would. Fail.
And yet, this is exactly what we are asking our students to tackle twice a year. Every year. To prepare them for the real world–which is largely void of these kinds of assessments.
Some will argue (as I did for years) that traditional midyears and finals prepare our students for college. And isn’t education about college and career readiness? However, the next time you talk to a college student, ask what his midyears and finals look like.
My colleague Chris and I did.
And the data we gathered was staggering. (We teach in a Level 1 high school, where approximately 90% of our graduates pursue college, ranging from community college to the Ivies.) Our recent grads said their midyears and finals look nothing like what we had asked them to do in high school. We figured that certainly their more largely populated, freshman-level courses consisted of those pesky multiple-choice tests. Those courses didn’t either. Instead, our former students are creating end-products that demonstrate the application of their learning (Can I get an “Amen”?), rather than completing lengthy, multiple-choice tests that rely heavily on recall–the kinds of midyears and finals I administered, for years, to “prepare my students for college.”
In his Chronicle of Higher Education piece entitled “Stop Telling Students to Study for Exams,” David Jaffee asserts, “Authentic assessments involve giving students opportunities to demonstrate their abilities in a real-world context. “
Last year, Chris and I set out to create an authentic assessment that that would assess a myriad of standards while giving our students opportunities to demonstrate the speaking and listening skills our learners will need for the rest of their lives. And the Midyear/Final Exam Book Clubs were born. Here is what they look like.
BEFORE THE EXAM
MIDYEAR EXAM BOOK CLUB DAY
On testing day, Chris and I meet in our respective classrooms to ensure that everyone is familiar with the three texts. We then head to the media center, get into our groups, and watch the magic happen.
I wish I could tell you that Chris and I lose ourselves in these rich conversations; and while we are definitely enjoying seeing our students demonstrating HOTS (Higher-Order Thinking Skills), alas, grades still need to be reported out. So, armed with clipboards and rubrics, Chris and I pop in and out of these groups, joining the conversations while jotting down notes.
AFTER THE EXAM
Once the exams are over, Chris and I meet to share our findings about each of our students. With numbers as large as ours, it has proven to be impossible for both of us to join each group. We made a conscious decision that we would work from different sections of the room and that we would trust each other’s feedback regarding the students. Quite often, a student who has under-performed in one of our classes has proven to be a vibrant contributor when set into this context. Talk about growth!
If you’ve made it this far in this post, know that Chris and I do not have all of the answers. We administered our third round of Book Club Midyears last week and are constantly refining the process to make it better. However, we do know each time we assess our students this way, we get to witness rich, vibrant learning.
And that is exactly why we do what we do.