Like many schools, we have traditionally had an exams week to end the school year.
I say “traditionally” because, in my opinion, exams in the Middle Years represent an appeal to tradition – a holdover from a different time and place in education. Focusing specifically on our MYP 1-3 students we wanted to make a change this year that would help eleiviate:
- The overwhelming amount of stress that our students felt during exams week (keep in mind a good chunk of them are only 11 years-old!)
- The overwhelming amount of anxiety our parents community felt during exams week (wanting their children to perform as well as possible)
- The rush our teachers felt to grade exams and the little insight these exams actually gave us into student learning
To this end, a proposal was put into to place to modify how exams worked at our school. At this point, it was still important to our administrative team to have students participate in some sort of cumulative, in-class experience. Based on the idea of preparing students for high school and, ultimately, DP World Exams, there was a want to give students the opportunity to get used to a formal exam setting (the effectiveness of this I’m still a little skeptical about…to me this is somewhat akin to getting 11 and 12 year-olds to drive every once and a while to prepare them for their driver’s test when they are 18).
Based on these parameters, we sought to create an alternative to cumulative exams. We created a list of priorities that we had for this new endeavour:
- We wanted these assessments to be a celebration of learning, rather than a stressful end to the year;
- In order to relieve both parent and student anxiety, we did not want students to have to study for these assessments, nor did we want them to be grades-based;
- We wanted these assessments to be electronic in order to mimic the experience of the MYP e-assessments, and;
- We wanted an assessment that would allow our teachers to reflect on their implementation of the MYP framework over the course of this year, in order to set goals for next year.
The concept we came up with was basic, but allowed for all three of these goals to be met. Using a form, we created three sections for students to respond to:
- Students needed to select one of any of the Key Concepts they focused on in that particular class and explain how their learning within that class contributed to their understanding of that Concept.
- Students needed to select one of any of the Global Contexts they focused on in that particular class and explain how their learning within that class contributed to their understanding of that Context.
- Students selected any number of ATL Skills developed during the course of that particular class and commented on their skill development.
- Teachers added a section that allowed students to give them feedback on their teaching practice, to help them in setting goals for next year.
The responses we got from students were very insightful – ranging from extremely nuanced understandings of Concepts and Contexts, to students honestly writing “we never learned any of these things” for some of their classes.
At the end of the four exam days, what we did have was a cross-section of our students’ experiences with the MYP framework, within the context of each one of their classes.
I spoke to many of the students about their experience with these assessments and here is a sample of some of their answers:
“I thought it was interesting that we got to choose what we were writing about for each class”.
“I like that we didn’t have to study!”
“I didn’t really understand what we were supposed to do”.
“These forced us to think more than exams did last year”.
“I like exams better, because if I’m not being graded then I don’t care as much”.
Based on the responses from students and input from teachers, we thought that our move to MYP-ify exams week was a decent first attempt. We realize that having these type of reflective exercises take place at the end of the year is equally as ineffective as having cumulative content-based exams at the end of a school year. This has helped us to reflect on the need to develop e-portfolios that our students can access throughout the course of each unit to make similar reflections, while the learning is taking place. All in all, this experience taught us a great deal and gave us insight into how we should be managing student reflections next school year, but is a far cry from solving the appeal to tradition that are exams.
What will exams week look like next year? I have no idea, but I do hope that we can continue to work to honour a celebration of learning at the end of the school year, rather than high stakes assessment.
Does your MYP programme have students in MYP 1-3 write exams? Is your school doing anything innovative to end the school year, rather than sticking to the tradition of cumulative exams?