As I stated in my other post, In Defense of Rigor: The Case for Exams, I am in favor of the practice. But arguments presented by my colleagues and the wider world challenge my thinking. This post is an effort to honor their perspective. In answer to the question, “What is the point of exams?”, abolitionists argue there isn’t a meaningful one. This argument took center stage when Smarter Balance Testing came under fire last year. I will expand on those arguments later in this post.

Abolitionists argue that exams only demonstrate students’ ability, or lack thereof, to memorize and regurgitate information. This information game is irrelevant to 21st Century learners and their needs in the internet age. Information, they argue, can be accessed freely via Google and other sites. Testing students on rules and theorems in isolation is pointless. They take this view of assessments, arguing students should be allowed to use notes because they will have access to that information freely in real life.

Other critics argue that exams are too high stakes, stressful and arbitrary. A single midyear and final benchmark set off false barriers, compartmentalizing learning that should continue to be developed the next term. It is a flawed system and inaccurate measure of student learning. Exams, they contend, undermine hard won gains of self-confidence and self-esteem. They see no point in giving an exam that makes student’s feel stupid. One of my students made this argument on his exam rather than completing the problems. He wrote, “I don’t know how to do this. Not everyone learns this way.” These objections seem valid.

I think the debate about Smarter Balance is germane and will share some of that argument. In opposition to the Smarter Balance, Sheila Cohen penned an article for the Hartford Courant entitled, ‘Smarter Balanced’ Test Wrong Answer For Students, Teachers. Cohen writes, “Smarter Balanced and other high-stakes standardized tests are not useful measures of student success… Smarter Balanced does not assist teachers in measuring academic growth, takes away precious instruction time and resources from teaching and learning, and is not developmentally and age-appropriate for students.” The same argument could be made about midterm and final exams.

I think exam structure and grade weighting need to be revised. I am still developing these ideas and would appreciate feedback.

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