First, Semester Exams Now RQAs?

Beverly Yirenkyi, J1 Staff Writer

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Imagine yourself on your first day of high school. You have heard about the semester exam week from your older siblings, a week when you take tests, sure – but it’s also a week where your schedule is flexible, time off is plenty, and you can get your sleep schedule together. You are excited to finally get the full high school experience of exam week, even the feeling of “skipping” school on a day when you have no exams and you can sleep in.

However when you walk into first period, your dreams are officially crushed. This is how I felt last year and how many of my peers feel due to the change in MCPS policy regarding final exams. Since the change took place last year, complaints from students have been common.

In Donna St. George’s article “One of the nation’s largest districts ditches high school final exams” in The Washington Post from September 2015, she reports that the county scrapped the semester exams for “more instructional time” and that it “lost support over the years.”

According to MCPS’s English Supervisor Jim Flaikas, removing semester exams and replacing them with RQAs and now Skills Checks would give teachers more instructional time. Mr. Flaikas also noted that the new RQAs used last year were intended to show each individual student’s level of understanding and that progress checks used this year will do the same, but are worth eleven percent of a student’s quarter grade, while the RQA was worth 10% of your quarter grade.

All of this makes sense and sounds clear, but it still leaves me wondering why MCPS felt a change was needed. Even though the information sounds good, it still doesn’t seem to be enough to convince anyone that this policy is better. The national required standard of instructional days is 180, and MCPS follows that plan. Instructional days are the days of instruction in a school year, so basically the number of days you have in school that you are learning. So what exactly do you need more instructional time for?

Semester exams evaluate a student’s understanding of the material being tested, and help them become more accustomed to taking tests for long periods of time, as they will do in college, as well as other standardized tests in high school. St. George from the Post interviewed Frances Frost, the President of Montgomery Countywide Council of PTAs, who feels that all in all, we need a standardized test across the county in order to see progress. “There needs to be a standard form of assessment across the county because that’s one way we make sure that every child is getting the same curriculum, the same challenge, in every school.”

Frost brings up an excellent point: If we still had semester exams, you could compare and contrast data, from within the county and with others across the US. Since MCPS is in one of the richest counties, we are held on a different standard, which is why cutting off semester exams was such a bold move.

Semester exams should be brought back into high schools in MCPS because they help students get used to sitting for long testing periods, which is similar to what happens during the SAT/ACT and AP/IB exams. Also, they test everyone in the county on the same level, which can show the Board of Education specific strengths and weaknesses. Finally, they help teachers see their students’ level of understanding on the topics covered in the class and know which areas need more focus in the future.

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First, Semester Exams Now RQAs?