Montgomery County and Final Exams

I was dismayed by the Washington Post editorial (September 11) bemoaning Montgomery County's decision to scrap high school final exams beginning in 2015–2016. There is ample reason to support the Board’s decision and little to support final exams in their current forms.

MCPS’ current final exams may assess student retention of Jeopardy-like factoids, but they do little to tell us how effective students can be. Current exams are unable to assess, except very indirectly and inaccurately, the ability to plan and prioritize, to recover from routine failures, to get along with each other — in other words, those qualities that make people effective in their lives. Among the abilities students need for success, the quick recall of facts that can be found in 30 seconds by any eighth-grader with an iPad, and scored by a Scan-tron machine, should no longer rate very high. With sturdy professional development, teachers are more than able to make meaningful assessment of student progress without the bogus “objective” tests discredited by decades of educational research.

Multiple-choice, computer-scored final exams may test student recall of discrete facts, but an avalanche of recent evidence demonstrates that portfolio-based demonstrations (to take one example that the editorial snidely dismisses as “squishy”) engage students more deeply in their learning, make learning “stickier,” develop skills relevant for every student, and largely avoid the done-then-forgotten nature of the current exams. They also narrow racial and economic achievement gaps legitimately, in part because the assessments are more relevant to what students do, rather than the facts they can memorize.

It is well past time for educated people to stop clinging to the traditions of our own antiquated schooling. Education is no longer the mere memorization of facts. Multiple-choice, computer-scored final exams assess little of value, and they’re lazy to boot. I’m not suggesting it’s easy, but with thoughtful guidance, I have faith that MCPS can do better by its students, and I applaud the Board’s decision.

Peter BravermanComment