What is Really Happening at the End of May


Jack Marchesani

The truth about the changes in finals this year and the thought process behind it.

Working with animals is an alternative assessment?
Working with animals is an alternative assessment?

Are we home free? That seems to be the question. By the time the May Issue of the Blackfriar Chronicle is released you’re going to be asking yourself that more and more often. The trees will be in full bloom, the sun will be shining, and homework will be the last thing on your mind. But wait… what’s that? Something is lurking and you can feel it. Mr. Valyo reminded us at every award ceremony as far back as this editor can remember: finals are coming. But this year, they’re going to be a little bit different.

The typical 6 days of mandatory, 2 hour sit down exams are no longer in place at Malvern. In a movement towards major changes in Malvern’s goals, the administration has decided to shift from the typical sit-down exam to a more ‘project-based’ and ‘experiential-learning’ style exam. These exams will be conducted for Science, Social Studies, English, and Language, and it will be up to the teachers to decide when and how these new exam formats will be administered. As for Math and Theology, the usual test format will be in place on June 2 and 3, so ready those #2 pencils and Red Bulls for those day-before cram sessions.

Many have asked the question as to whether or not a record number of snow days had a direct impact on the new finals and if the finals will be occurring in years to come. Jack St. Amour reflected the feelings of the vast majority of students on twitter: ‘Everyone’s spring break got shortened because of snow and instead of shortening ours, they took away most exams.  #ThanksMalvern #13daysLeft’

According to Head of Upper School Mr. Algeo, the snow days were indeed a major factor in changing the exam schedule. “The main impetus that really gave us some momentum was the snow days; however, we were already talking back in the summer and fall about changing our approach to the exams,” said Algeo.

In truth, the changes came as a result of a combination of two major factors. The goal of making major changes to the finals schedule was in mind, but the snow days allowed the administration to implement the changes in the 2013-2014 school year.

“You’re talking about 14 to 18 year olds sitting down for two hours and taking a test that was worth the same as a 9 week quarter. We thought that that didn’t seem equitable,” said Mr. Algeo, describing the old system of finals.

Mr. Algeo and Mr. Valyo, after recognizing the need for change, surveyed Malvern alums in college at the time to find out exactly how many “sit-down” style finals they actually took. They found the average to be between 3 to 3.5 out of 5 finals to be the typical style. This inspired the idea to cut back this year, and allow faculty to give the new testing format a try.

Algeo explained that the original plan was to keep the original exam dates, but allow teachers to opt out of them for the changed finals. After the mess of a winter we had, the administration chose to change final days into class days and allow the departments to choose their testing style. “The snow really kickstarted this,” added Algeo.

Algeo did express the importance of the sit-down exam, as Malvern is a college preparatory school, and we can expect this type of final exam in college.

As to whether or not the finals would occur in this manor in the future, Mr. Algeo described an upcoming meeting that will determine this. “I’m going to ask the departments that question. I can determine whether we rotate it every year, or [the departments] can help me decide… We’re probably not going to have more than three [project-based finals],” said Algeo.

Mr. Algeo also elaborated on the fact that he does not believe we lost quality of curriculum with the snow days. Due to a combination of both skilled teachers and supportive families, the students were able to make up what they missed either at home or when they returned. He did reason that his overall fear was the loss of momentum and the possibility of a psychological effect on the student body in terms of comprehension and focus due to the great number of breaks.

Algeo expressed that the key was to assess based upon different learning styles to suit all types of students. This is the basis of “Student-Centered Learning.” He used the word “differentiation” in describing different types of tests given to students to reflect what the students know and what they have learned. “Providing as many choices as possible is the best way to go,” he said.

When asked about new final ideas he would like to see out of teachers he stated he likes the idea of comprehensive portfolios, overall experiments, and essays, as these finals reflect assessments the students might see in college, all the while allowing a different basis for assessment.

While Mr. Algeo focussed on the effects of finals on the students, the teachers faced a different challenge. Forced to squeeze a year’s worth of curriculum into less than a year’s worth of time, teachers had to change their teaching styles to accommodate the needs of the student body.

“The snow days had no effect, they had a huge effect, and the true answer is probably somewhere in between,” said Honor British Literature teacher Mr. Rich Roper. “I am feeling the constrictions of time as we hustle towards the end. It is worrisome, but it’s not insurmountable. We’ll be fine.”

Mr. Roper described his final as a “stopgap measure.” Due to the lost time, he has combined the junior year English curriculum, including a research paper, with the final. The paper typically placed in the fourth quarter along with the notorious speeches will now serve as a final exam grade.

He explained that next year he will try to return to the normal final, pending upcoming discussions in which the future of the exams will be discussed.

The students have had quite a different response than the faculty and administration. Many believe that the final projects are a good thing, and will hopefully alleviate stress that is usual associated with the typical 2 hour final. Magnus Sims ‘15 expressed his desire to simply have the ability to test out of finals, as is the case in many colleges nationwide. Meanwhile, many Villa and Notre Dame students remain outraged that, “the boys get out of finals and we don’t.”

[button link=”https://lantern.news/2014/05/29/friars-how-are-those-final-projects-going/” newwindow=”yes”] What do students think?[/button]

Many hope that this will indeed be a course of action that will set them “home free.” The snow may have changed scheduling, but the same feeling of relief will most definitely pervade throughout the student body as pencils are finally placed down on the last exam date. Regardless of what types of new finals are truly given come late May, the student body should expect to work, but must keep in mind that the administration has changed this system with the student  in mind.