SPS Should Not Bring Back Midterms and Finals


Julia Schager, Staff Writer

Students hate midterms and finals, and with good reason – they waste time, they’re stressful, and they don’t help students learn. Now the Stamford Board of Education finally agrees. 

The BOE’s elimination of midterms and finals has enhanced learning opportunities throughout the district’s middle and high schools. Its decision, part of a nationwide trend, is reflective of a new and improved approach to learning being implemented in Stamford Public Schools that maximizes both class time and students’ opportunities to succeed.

There are numerous reasons to cheer this change. First, midterms and finals take valuable learning time away from students. At a handful of other schools in Fairfield County that have maintained the midterm and finals format, as many as seven days are dedicated to reviewing and testing every semester – an excessive amount of time that could be better spent on active curriculum learning or more expansive assessment methods such as projects or extended papers.

There are alternative means of evaluating students’ cumulative knowledge which help them learn more thoroughly instead of punishing hard workers who are not gifted test-takers. Moreover, such students don’t necessarily have the opportunity to learn from their mistakes. Test corrections are not available on exams of this scale (especially since finals mark the last days of attendance for many students), and therefore the information students failed to prepare for continues to go unlearned. On the other hand, final projects and papers that are corrected and can be revised with teachers before their due date grant students an opportunity to learn instead of being punished for not remembering specifics in a potentially high-stress environment.

Furthermore, testing measures the amount of information a student is able to memorize for the short term rather than the long term. Scores can be indicative of hard work, but homework, classwork, and regular assessments (such as unit tests and projects) are far more accurate in gauging the continuous effort a student puts into their studies.

“I have no freaking idea what Champa Rice is,” said Hannah Schager, Carnegie Mellon University freshman, upon being asked about an integral part of the AP World History curriculum that she went through only three short years ago. Another college freshman, Alex Rubin at Northwestern University, claimed he knew “absolutely nothing” about Von Thunen’s model (an integral point necessary to succeed on an AP Human Geography cumulative exam). It’s not for lack of hard work that students forget this information; rather, it’s a lack of incentive for them to retain the material.

After high school, many students either directly enter the professional world or attend college before getting a job in a field of their choosing. In both scenarios, employers will be inclined to hire the candidate willing to dedicate the most time and energy to their work. They are looking for precision, attention to detail and teamwork skills – none of which are comprehensively assessed by midterms and finals. However, final projects can measure these skills while also demonstrating how much actual information the student has retained throughout the unit or semester.

Additionally, certain students crawl through the school year with half-finished late assignments, but engage in 24-hour cramming sessions before summative tests and still pass their classes. Those grades move on to their college transcripts, and universities and jobs end up accepting and hiring students who aren’t the hard workers that their record suggests. While these students have their grades unreasonably inflated, those with test anxiety are unfairly disadvantaged. Very rarely in the professional world will individuals be in a test-like environment – people are much more likely to demand hard work and dedication than the skills that help students answer test questions under arbitrary time constraints.

Even so, many colleges and universities in the U.S. employ midterms and finals. For this reason, one might assume that students should learn how to prepare for them in high school. However, there are two problems with this line of thinking. First, some kids don’t attend college, so becoming a test-taking whiz is only useful until they earn their high-school diploma. Second, even if kids do seek secondary education, anyone who becomes a humanities major is likely to be evaluated on projects and essays in place of the sorts of typical tests employed by high schools.

Most importantly, the best way to handle this issue is to make midterms and finals an optional college preparedness choice. Some students choose to take AP exams in UConn ECE classes when they’re not required, simply for the score; some choose to enroll in AP classes instead of honors, despite the honors teacher being favored by most alumni; some choose to retake the SAT numerous times instead of sticking with their score from the state mandated exam. Students should be allowed to opt into a test if they think it’s worth it for their transcript, despite all of the aforementioned negatives. However, like an AP exam score, it should be separate from their regular class grade and GPA.

The Stamford BOE’s decision to abolish midterms and finals reflected the best interests of all SPS students, and should be a model for other districts in order to support expansive and long-term learning.