Ah the rites of spring. No, I’m not referring to the 80′s band nor to the Stravinsky ballet, but something more fundamental, more far-reaching, more mysterious, and in the scheme of life far more insignificant: final exams.
Each spring in schools across America, desks are re-arranged into ranks designed to maximize space between them, copy machines are pressed into overtime service, faculty and staff are assigned duties as quasi-security officers, sales of #2 pencils go through the roof, blue books disappear from the supply room, students, bleary-eyed from late-night cramming stumble into school rooms, and face-down exams are flipped over in unison after the proctor announces “Begin!”
Makes my knees go weak just remembering it all.
How is it that final exams have become so ingrained in American education? What educational purposes do they serve? How do students benefit from them?
Final exams are an artifice left over from an industrial model of education in which students represented a product on an assembly line measured not by linear length but by time. Like a normal birth term, every none months students are forced from comfort into a new world, the world of the exam, which bears little resemblance to the work of the mind and heart that they occupy (or should occupy) the rest of the year. Final exams are designed for the convenience of teachers, not the education of students. They are meant to sort, rank, and label students as if they were commodities like fruit or slabs of meat.
Why do schools that otherwise purport to embrace 21st century learning and teaching cling to a practice with so little relevance to the world of work, leisure, mindfulness, compassion, intellectual pursuit, and higher education that they claim to be preparing students to enter?
I have written before as proponent of open testing, but I realize that this does not go far enough. Yes, students should have ubiquitous access to the tools of the mind and creativity they have in their everyday lives, but the whole means of assessment known as “final exams” needs to be dismantled. This is no way to provide meaningful assessment of students, and we should end these rites of springs that are so wrong.