- Anne Arundel County Public Schools
- October 20, 2017
George Arlotto: Testing windows ease student stress, anxiety
Posted by Melvin Edwards on 10/18/2017
As we have examined and refined our grading and assessment policies and protocols over the years, we have put in place a number of changes designed to better reflect student knowledge and to relieve some of the stress and anxiety that has accompanied testing.
We have made significant changes to our assessment system. For example, at the elementary and middle school levels we have a maximum of one district assessment per marking period. In many cases, these assessments are performance-based and include projects and presentations.
At the high school level, we are focused on minimizing the stress that accompanies high-stakes assessments. Last year, we replaced high school two-hour semester exams with shorter quarterly assessments. This switch allows teachers to know how much and how well students have learned the material earlier in the process, and to home in on select standards at two times during the semester rather than waiting until the end of the semester for a final assessment.
The change was accompanied by a reduction in the weighting of those assessments, designed to eliminate the make-or-break-your-grade mindset of many students. Formerly, two marking period grades each accounted for 40 percent of a student’s semester grade, and an end-of-semester exam made up the other 20 percent. Now, each marking period accounts for 50 percent of a total grade, with the quarterly assessment making up 10 percent of the marking period grade.
Feedback from students, parents, teachers, and other school system employees over the last year showed the need for continued adjustments. What we found was that the format of two quarterly assessments a day over a four-day period – even with the reduced weighting placed on assessments – actually heightened anxiety among students and their parents. Some felt as if they were preparing for four of the old “final” exams and many students experienced more stress rather than less.
After much discussion with many different groups, we have moved this year to testing windows during which assessments in a given content area will be administered over a predetermined time period. Those windows were communicated to schools and students earlier this year. They can also be found by clicking on the District Assessments link in the Testing section on the front page of our school system’s website, www.aacps.org.
The benefits here are numerous: Students will take eight assessments over the last 15 days of a marking period as opposed to eight over a four-day period. In addition, this approach allows individual schools to determine what days will work best within their instructional day and eliminate a “final exam” culture. The new schedule also eliminates the need to alter the daily schedule for students. Students will take their assessments during a regular class period and all other programs – such as those at the Centers for Applied Technology, music festivals and field trips – will continue as normal.
We must move away from the mindset that quarterly assessments are the end of the journey in a given academic period, as was the case with semester exams. Despite their different weight, they should be viewed as another assessment used to gauge student mastery of content and in no way should they mark the end of instruction.
Engaging lessons can – and will – continue in the classes after quarterly assessments are administered. Students will learn new content, read new novels, learn how to solve more math problems, conduct more science experiments and create more artwork. We have modified the curricula to ensure that meaningful instruction continues. Teachers will continue to assign work and grade students throughout the quarter.
Our ultimate goal can be summed up in two words: student mastery. There is no one path to achieving that goal, and we are committed to continuing to explore the many and varied ways to get all of our students where they need to go.