Are Final Exams the Best Way to Assess Summative Knowledge?

The end of the academic year comes with tons of testing. Not only are there standardized state testing but also end of the year summative final exams. By the beginning of June, my students are feeling burned out from a whole month of testing. Junior year, in particular, is one of the most heavily tested grade levels from taking the CAASPP to the SAT and ACT.

I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about assessments and what makes a valid and encompassing evaluation of my students’ knowledge. Growing up I was never a great test taker, and I was often plagued with anxiety on the day of a big exam. I was a good student, earning mostly As on projects and reports, but my exam scores were not always reflective of my knowledge of the material. I have sympathy for my students and want them to be able to demonstrate all that they’ve learned over the academic year.

Is there an alternative way to test a student’s summative knowledge of the course rather than a written final exam? Here are my top three ideas on how to wrap up the end of the year:

  1. Final Project. Final projects are great because they can be as open ended as you want them to be covering the entire year, a particular unit, or a focused question. Final projects allow students to be creative while demonstrating their content knowledge. When assigning a final project, I often leave the medium very open ended. Some ideas include a video, collage, TedTalk, model, or essay. Before submitting their final projects, I always make students submit a proposal outlining what they intend to do for their project. This gives me the opportunity to ensure that their project is aligned to the task and fits my expectations. I’ve learned that the key to a successful final project is to have a very specific rubric. This makes your expectations for your students very clear and makes grading a lot easier.
  2. Portfolio. I love portfolios because they provide students an opportunity to share their work from the entire year and reflect on their performance and growth. When assigning a portfolio project, I have students justify why they selected a particular assignment and why they are proud of it. In addition to submitting work, students also submit a reflection. In their reflection, students reflect on their performance throughout the entire year and argue with evidence why they believe they should earn a particular grade in the class. This is one of my favorite aspects of the portfolio because it gives me insight on how my students believe they performed. Often, they are a lot harder on themselves than I would be!
  3. Lab Practical or Research Report. Lab practicals and reports give students an opportunity to practice the skills that they learned over the year. This is not something that they can “study” for but rather a performance. As a science teacher, I love to see how students’ lab techniques and critical thinking skills have grown over the year. This could be a particular assignment or an open ended research task where students get to research a particular area of interest. Hearing students present on their research and projects is an exciting opportunity for students to share their passions and something that they worked really hard to complete.

What are your thoughts? How do you assess your students at the end of the year?

What do you think?
The following two tabs change content below.
Chelsea Culbert

Chelsea Culbert

Chelsea Culbert is a proud product of New York public schools where she graduated with her International Baccalaureate diploma. She went off to attain her B.A. in Chemistry with concentrations in Public Health and Child and Adolescent Mental Health Studies at NYU. While at NYU, she started the chapter of “Strive for College,” a non-profit organization that connects college students as mentors to assist high schoolers throughout the college application and financial aid processes. Immediately after graduation, Chelsea pursued her teaching career with Teach for America Los Angeles. While teaching, Chelsea completed her Master’s degree in Urban Education at Loyola Marymount University. Chelsea is currently teaching at her Teach for America placement school in Lincoln Heights where she serves as Department Instructional Lead, Instructional Leadership Team member, and coaches Varsity soccer.

More Comments