Due to the COVID-19 pandemic’s effects on the last few months of the 2019-20 school year, Saint Paul Academy and Summit School had to make several changes to final exams. Since students were in full-time distance learning to end the year, teachers were instead instructed to give out “capstone assessments” as it felt unfair to continue with the standard cumulative final exams given the circumstances. These assessments were not final exams covering work from the entirety of the year. Instead, they were either short tests covering one unit or longer projects spanning multiple days. The goal of these exams was to provide closure to the school year in a less overwhelming and stressful manner.
This year, teachers have once again been persuaded to conduct capstone assessments, but have much more control over what the format, length, and assessed content will be for the exams in their respective classes. Some have chosen to conduct standard final exams containing content from the entire year, while others have kept with a similar format to last year’s capstone tests. Ms. Yost-Dubrow, an upper school biology teacher, said, “I will be giving a unit test rather than a final exam this year because I simply need all of the available class days I have to teach new content, given how our class time has been cut short by COVID. An added bonus to this decision is it allows Biology students to focus on the most recent content and hopefully will reduce stress somewhat as students head into a big week of tests and capstones.”
Students likewise have a strong opinion on this year’s final exams and whether they are necessary. Sophomore Johnna Melk-Johnson said, “I really do not think that it is fair to have final exams this year. I don’t mind the capstone tests and projects, but with everything going on in the world right now, a final exam covering work from the entire year is just too much.”
Ninth-grader Johnny Christakos had similar thoughts about final exams. He said, “Although I have never taken final exams before, I have heard a lot about them from my older siblings. They seem very stressful and just an overall bad way to end the year. With COVID-19 and everything else going on right now, I don’t think that we should have real final exams. The year started off in distance learning, and we had to fluctuate between in-person and online a lot, so I do not think we are as prepared for a real final as we would normally be.”
Although many aspects of typical finals have changed over the past year, the schedule has remained relatively consistent. Finals begin Thursday, June 3rd, and conclude on Tuesday, June 8th. Each day, two classes will hold their capstone assessments for roughly two hours. To space out the testing periods, the first exam of the day will be held at 9 am, and the second begins at 1 pm. This process will repeat for four days until every class has completed its slot. The main difference this year is the increase in creative projects. Instead of requiring students to come into school for every period, several teachers have opted to assign projects (i.e., presentations, essays, videos, etc.) that relate to or reflect common themes from the curriculum while allowing students to embrace their creativity. These projects are most often due on Google Classroom at the beginning of each class’s assigned testing slot but do not require on-campus attendance. This way, students can turn in their work and use the rest of the period to prepare for other capstone assessments.
“I really like that we have projects. It lets me do my work ahead of time and get stuff out of the way before the in-person tests that I have later in the week. Right now, I really only have to go to two legitimate final tests, and one of them is just covering one unit of work instead of the entire year,” said sophomore Simon Assefa.
The numerous impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic have caused the SPA community to rethink the necessity of final exams. Teachers and the administration alike have started to explore whether or not cumulative exams are truly the best way to assess a student’s growth and knowledge.
As the school year winds down into the final stretch, the usage of capstone assessments will bring positive change to students’ mental health around exam time and improve productivity in the upcoming weeks.