Are Final Exams Still Relevant??

I want to start by saying I am really not trying to make people mad…I only want to make them reflect on something that has been a part of education for generations–Final Exams. A Facebook friend and colleague posted this picture that aptly describes the feeling that her two kids (both in high school) have about final exams. I simply want to ask the question, do final exams still hold relevance in our education system? If so, what is your reasoning? If not, what can be done in place of them?

Many schools are working hard to change what it means for students to be educated. There is a push for more student-centered instruction. Getting students to create rather than consume is the goal for many teachers and schools. The district in which I work has 1:1 iPads in hopes of helping to make education more relevant for this generation of students. Can you really give a final exam on one day that captures the essence of this type of “new” classroom? Does a multiple choice, fill in the blank, true/false test effectively capture what students are learning in your class?  If you have this “new” type of classroom and then proceed to give a test that can quickly be graded on a scantron machine, is that a valid test? These are questions that I think we need to seriously ponder moving forward.

Why do we give finals? Is it to prepare students for college? Is it because that is what has always been done? Do we really know why we give finals? If the answer to the first question is yes, do we know that colleges still give finals the way that we were used to taking? Is our primary goal to give students experience that will benefit them in college? Is a high school final really comparable to a college final? There are so many questions, but have we thought through the answers or do we just fall back on the fact that it has always been done this way and it would be a pain to change it?

How much should a final exam be worth? In my district, finals count for 20% of the semester grade. By my simplistic calculations, the seventy-five minute exam is .017% of the total amount of time spent in a semester class. Should that percentage of time spent testing equate to 20% of a final semester grade considering each day counts for .011%?

Policies for taking final exams vary widely from district to district. Some have policies based on grade point average, some offer a choice, and some base it on attendance. Again, each one of these begs many questions. If you are a district that requires a certain grade point average, is there a sound reason for that number? What if a student is truly doing the best that they can do but still fall short of the required grade point average? If a choice is offered to students, do they know the advantages and disadvantages for and against taking finals? Are parents aware of the choice? Do attendance policies encourage students to come to school when they are I’ll to avoid having to take finals?

There are more questions in this post than answers. My point is simple, does your school/district know why they give finals? The one thing I will definitively say is that the response should not be that we have always done it so why change. I also think it is unacceptable to make current students do something that we all had to suffer through because that’s just how it is.