Published Dec. 10, 2020
By MJ APFEL
With Carmel High School managing its first official finals week since its transition to distance learning, teachers are thinking about how they can best utilize Zoom to administer finals to assess student learning or prepare them for future standardized tests, while also managing test security.
Finals will start Tuesday, and two finals will take place every day except Friday. On Monday, students will attend seven 30-minute periods, with a 30-minute lunch break between fifth and sixth period. Tuesday through Thursday, two hours will be allotted for each final with a two-hour break separating periods. Friday will have a single final with time afterward for makeup exams.
“The school does not have universal expectations on finals. That is up to the teachers’ discretion,” CHS principal Jonathan Lyons says. “Some teachers may choose to give a final exam during their window, while others may have presentations or the submission of a larger project.”
Student attendance will be determined by the completion of their finals, and for classes with no formal final, attendance will be logged when students join their respective Zoom calls. Given such flexibility, finals will be handled on a case-by-case basis, leaving room for teachers to deviate from previous years’ testing formats.
“I have tried to run my distance learning Zoom classes as close to how I would run my live and in-person classes,” says Tricia Bean, the Spanish 3 and Spanish Heritage teacher. “My final projects typically involve real-world situations, use authentic resources and require student collaboration and spontaneous interactions using Spanish language skills.”
Although it’s possible for some teachers to conduct their classes similar to how they have pre-pandemic, an elevated concern for the risk of cheating exists, causing teachers to think of new ways of monitoring exams.
“One thing I do for test security is that I have a large pool of test questions, and each student gets a random subset of those questions,” says CHS physics teacher Don Freitas, who is giving a 50-question test on the Moodle secure browser, an interface used frequently during in-person instruction.
Other CHS teachers giving traditional exams cite additional methods of managing test security and concerns regarding academic integrity.
“All students need to be on camera at all times so I know they aren’t getting help from someone else,” CHS Spanish teacher Olga Chandler says. “For Spanish 2 they might be able to cheat anyway with electronic help. This is much harder for level 4 and impossible for AP since it’s an on the spot test that they can’t prepare for.”
Teachers share that their new experiences with managing online test security have exemplified how they view the purpose of test taking and how test security, as a whole, is viewed.
“A lot of it comes down to trust,” AP Statistics teacher Juan Gomez says. “It doesn’t matter where I’ve been, there’s always someone who spends a lot of time trying to game the system. The only way that I know students know the material is when I hear students tell me or put in the chat what they know. It’s in those conversations that I know where students are at.”
Gomez and fellow CHS math teacher Jody Roberts, who is giving a similar online final, will use the Hapara Teacher Dashboard extension to monitor student activity.
Though distance learning has presented challenges for students and teachers alike, some have utilized the new format to better assess student learning. CHS French teacher Suzanne Marden will not be giving final exams for any of her classes this semester, a continuation of previous final plans.
“This year, we are having an interpretive communication live experience in the kitchen… We’re cooking,” Marden explains. “I’m explaining in French, for listening skills, and they are playing along in one way or another. They either cook with me or they fill out a Google Slides presentation with the ingredients and all the steps to creating whatever their class is making. I would not be able to do this if we were in class, so I am super happy to be doing remote learning for these random experiences that are otherwise impossible.”
World History teacher Bruce Dini explains that he’s moved his tests in a different direction due to test security concerns. For most of the year, Dini has replaced traditional exams with more open-ended writing assignments, and he is having students give a final online presentation about historical figures, while their classmates will try to guess who they are supposed to be.
“What I’ve been looking to do is to find other ways of assessing student knowledge, while being fair and making it fun,” Dini says. “Because we’re not taking a standardized test, it gives me much more flexibility to try and be creative in figuring out ways to assess student knowledge. Really, it’s less about defining mastery of content and more about affirming competency with course content.”
Philosophy and history teacher Marc Stafford is also taking a new approach to his finals, deciding that his classes will have discussion-based finals with written-paper components rather than multiple-choice tests.
“I’ve been moving in this direction for a long time,” Stafford says. “For MPC U.S. History, we don’t have multiple-choice tests. Any of the multiple-choice stuff in history this year is all about learning. It’s not about assessing, and all of the assessments have been written assessments, either short answers or essays.”
Stafford’s focus on written exams and class participation aims to reduce the stress of school and increase the authenticity of class participation, giving students the skills to form and discuss arguments rather necessary for an in-depth understanding of history. With inspiration from his experience in CHS’ Ethics Bowl team, his finals will have students competing in teams, talking about nuanced issues with one another and being graded based on their ability to engage in the discussion and with their classmates’ ideas.
History teacher Joe McCarty is similarly giving a non-test final in his classes, having his World History class give a presentation and his MPC U.S. History classes participating in a discussion similar to Stafford’s.
With teachers learning how to continually adjust to the distance-learning format and students expected to adapt to these changes, the way that teachers have managed assessments has also evolved, involving both new and previously used methods.