What finals week will look like this year

Administration is not changing exam requirements in light of virtual learning

As many students have begun barreling towards winter break, setting their sights solely on their upcoming 12 days off, the thought of final exams may cross their minds. After a difficult and stressful online semester, most teachers are trying to reduce stress for their students.

The administration is not changing their guidelines for what classes should do for their “culminating experiences,” rather giving teachers the freedom to decide if they want to give a traditional exam or not. Ever since the 2017-18 school year –– when the administration had a conversation to rethink Shorewood’s exam experience –– teachers have been given this direction.

For this semester, although the administration isn’t changing guidelines, some teachers will be adjusting their normal exam week plans to help students’ mental health. For example, the social studies department will not be giving their students a traditional cumulative exam, rather creating culminating experiences that will give students the chance to summarize and apply what they learned this semester.

I know there’s a lot of anxiety around being assessed in this type of virtual situation, so I’m just trying to develop of cumulative experience that is not at all stressful,

— Evan Schmidt

“This semester, I’m choosing not to give a traditional final just because it’s a very unique situation, teaching online and learning online,” said Evan Schmidt, social studies teacher and department head. “I know there’s a lot of anxiety around being assessed in this type of virtual situation, so I’m just trying to develop of cumulative experience that is not at all stressful, but that I think is best in assessing my students’ growth over the previous semester, and I think that’s true for all of my colleagues in social studies.”

The science department has also adjusted their guidelines for the end of the semester, avoiding giving their students traditional exams like they usually do.

“There will probably not be a uniform ‘final exam’ experience for all students enrolled in a science course this semester,” said Eric Mathews, science teacher and department head, in an email. “That being said, every student in like courses (for example, all Biology students, regardless of who their teacher is) will have the same experience.”

Other classes that will be adjusting their normal exam plans include math and English; math classes will not give exams, and teachers will decide if they will give a unit test during the last week of the semester; the English department will also not be giving an exam this semester.

Some departments won’t have to change their usual way of conducting their exam week; the art department will be having students create final projects as they normally would; the performing arts department will give kids final projects, performances and reflections; the world language department will also not have to adjust to a virtual environment. 

“The WL Department does not offer a semester exam as learning a language is a cumulative experience each and every day,” said Christine Jacquart, french teacher and WL department head, in an email. “Students demonstrate their knowledge and skill set every two weeks throughout the semester, and as concepts build, they become more fluent and the evidence of their learning grows in their fluency through these assessments … This is what we did last year and it proved to be more beneficial for students.”

From class to class, students can expect different decisions from their teachers. Students should hear from teachers soon about what their class’s plans are, if they haven’t heard already.

There might be some type of final exam thing happening in those classes, or maybe not; maybe you’ll just end up with one last class and that’ll be it,

— Tim Kenney, principal

“There might be some type of final exam thing happening in those classes, or maybe not; maybe you’ll just end up with one last class and that’ll be it,” said Tim Kenney, principal.

Part of the discussion about exams this semester has been about how much they should be worth. One of Schmidt’s classes, Economic Theory, will not count the culminating experience as part of the grade. 

“For economics, the first quarter is 50% and the second quarter is 50%, so whatever we do as a culminating experience is not going to be a part of the grade, it’s just going to be a way to wrap up the class. I think that that’s true for my colleagues also,” Schmidt said. “We’re not looking at culminating experiences that are a large percent of the final grade, in any case.”

One of Schmidt’s other classes, Asian Studies, will have a cumulative experience worth a grade, but Schmidt is trying to keep it from being stressful. 

“In Asian Studies, we have a project where students pick a country to travel to for two weeks, and we work on this project all semester … that project is 20% of the final grade,” Schmidt said. “That project will be completed by the end of the semester, I have been giving students time to work on this in class, and so I can envision in that class, the culminating experience being us talking about our experience, about our trip.”

The administration is also focusing energy and discussion towards exam weights, and how the overall class experience –– not just one exam –– should reflect a student’s learning.

“You want it to be worth enough for students to still care about it … but also if a student is in a situation where they’re struggling with what could be a variety of things in life … it’s not going to hurt their grade that much if they don’t do well,” Kenney said. “Because if a student did A work on semester long, and also gets a C on the final exam, they should really still get an A for the semester because they showed repeatedly throughout the duration of the semester that they’re capable of A work; why should one 90-minute experience end up changing a semester’s worth of really good work?”

Ripples asked teachers what advice they would give to students who are feeling stressed for exams this semester.

“Make lists!” Jessica Mohagen, art teacher, said in an email. “Plan ahead and make daily goals and lists you can cross off and keep motivated.”

Jacquart also suggests staying organized in order to keep yourself motivated.

“At the risk of sounding like a mom, I am going to say ‘make your bed,’” Jacquart said. “Finding the motivation to make your bed will lead to further motivation to do just about anything you set your mind to.”

“In terms of advice, I would offer the same advice I offer students during in-person school: start your preparation early, seek out help [and] guidance from your teachers, and put in the time to truly be prepared for success,” Mathews said.

Schmidt asks that students fill out the surveys sent out by the administration that ask for feedback about how the school can improve virtual learning. 

“I just read the results from the most recent survey, and that information is invaluable, because we do not know what you are going through, we did not have this experience when we were your age, so providing that feedback helps us grow, helps us best serve you as your teachers, so I highly recommend that students fill out the student surveys,” Schmidt said.