To Exam or Not, that is the question?

Last week I had dinner with a colleague who decided this fall that his school would not be giving students final exams. We discussed his decision and his rationale for it; truth be told, a lot of it made sense.

Over the past few days, I have been helping my own children as they prepare for their final exams. The review packets and the exams they took, highlight the very reason why my colleague decided to eliminate exams. What they had to study for was arbitrary and a basic regurgitation of facts, dates, and concepts. There was very little that showed that a student mastered and understood the material at a high level. Simply put, this was a rote activity that rewarded memorization rather than understanding at a high level.

I know I am painting all exams with one broad brush, but as I thought back on my experiences as a teacher and building principal, this tends to be the norm. Is there a better way to assess students to show mastery of material? Some schools have replaced final exams with quarterly common assessments. This helps students prepare for reviewing large quantities of information as they get ready for college. If schools are still looking to have final exams, that are worth 10%-20% of a total grade, then maybe the format needs to change. Would students be better served by doing a capstone project, writing a paper, doing a project etc.? Maybe the time of final exams for high school students has run its course? It is definitely worth a discussion.