Alternative English finals offered


Jessica Meyers and Caroline Wydman talk about alternative English finals. “I don’t feel that the English finals were applicable to what we learned in class, so I definitely think not having one will be beneficial to students since it takes off some stress,” Wydman said. Photo by Camille Wodarz.

Lucy Ordway, Staff Writer

Starting this semester, the administration will be piloting alternative final exams for freshman and sophomore English classes in an attempt to match the class curriculum with a more appropriate final.

Prior to this year, English finals have been like all other exams: a two-hour test that generally includes a writing and multiple choice section. However, after additional investigation, the administration has found that an alternative final could more accurately represent student learning in some classes. For many classes, especially English classes, a timed, on the spot essay cannot accurately portray the skills that are cultivated throughout the semester. In these classes, long-term writing and revision processes are key to the curriculum and difficult to achieve in a limited time.

“In our freshman, sophomore and junior classes and even some of our senior classes, we are trying to teach longer types of writing with a very thorough revision process,” Mitchell Beck said. “We are trying to encourage students to write a rough draft, leave it alone for a while, come back to it, do a bunch of rewrites, have it peer edited and all of these sorts of things. That’s ultimately one of the major writing skills that we want to build.”

Beck is the head of the English department as well as an English teacher, and he explains that one of the major problems with a traditional final exam is the inability of students to use any of these skills that are focused on in class.

“All of the sudden for the final, because we had to fit into the period, students would have to do a timed writing, that was on the spot, by hand, without any time to revise, research or anything like that,” Beck said. “So, in some of our courses, it didn’t quite fit with the type of writing that we were trying to do the rest of the time.”

This disparity between what was taught and what was tested has to lead to certain English classes piloting an alternative final.

“We are really looking at trying to build a writing portfolio over the course of the year,” Beck said. “So, what it could look like is that the final exam portion of the course might be their final paper. They would be able to choose what they think was their best piece of sophisticated and lengthy writing over the semester and submit that as their final work.”

 However, not all finals will be changed. In certain classes, the administration still believes that a normal final is the best way to test students on their knowledge and understanding of the course.  

“In other areas, the final won’t change,” Principal Steve McWilliams said. “Math will still be math and science will still be science, but we have really tried to look course by course to make the best decision. Where it makes sense we won’t make the change and where it does, we will.”

English is the first subject to be looked at for possible changes, but the decision is dependent on the teachers and what they think is best for the class and the students. Together, the teachers who instruct the same course will decide what the best final exam will be for testing both growth and overall understanding. Each class might have a different exam based on what is perceived to be the best in these aspects.

“We want to really try and let the teachers decide what’s best for our students and see how our students perform,” Beck said. “Depending on the course, and the level of sophistication of the students, timed writing plus a portion of a practice exam might make sense as final proof of their ability. However, another class might have something completely different depending on the projects that the teacher might want them to do. It depends on the course.”

Following the first semester exams, performance and reliability will be evaluated and, if needed, changes will again be made.

“We are going to see how these finals go and then take a look if we will need to make any changes for the springtime and go from there to see if any junior or senior classes want to try it,” Beck said.

For the most part, it seems as if some students are having a positive response to this change.

“I like it because I think that it will give me a lot less anxiety,” sophomore Rishi Ray said. “It seems like there will be one less final to study for and that would be a real upside.”

For students to find out if their English class will have an alternative final, they should ask their teachers. The goal is that all students will be informed come the end of the semester and that there will be no surprises.