Are Midterms Really Necessary In A Climate Of Assessment?

woodleywonderworksAre Midterms Really Necessary In A Climate Of Assessment?

by Dawn Casey-Rowe, Social Studies Teacher

It’s time for midterms. I hate midterms.

They take up so much time–several days of review, a week of administering, and then all the correcting. To top it off, they place students in a high-anxiety environment. I feel like I’m hazing them rather than teaching.

That’s not what I tell students, though–I have to give myself some credibility. “Ah, the sound of silence…I should give an exam every day of the year. I could sit back, make a sandwich…that’d be the life.” I don’t mean it, though. Like I said, I really hate exams.

The only thing worse than exams is those departmental exams that standardize things from class to class–what would happen if we destandardized courses? Students might be interested in studying. Would any disaster befall two classes of history students if they learned different things?

At least those types of exams are usually multiple choice, though, which means they’re easy to correct. Just crank the paper into the machine and within minutes all students know their fate.

And all of this is unnecessary. I can tell if a student understands without a week of exams. We have the technology and the pedagogy to microassess students. I can ask students, give an exit slip, or use a formative assessment program like Metryx or Mastery Connect.

Students can take polls on Socrative or utilize a Google form. I can have them construct, make, do, explain, teach, speak, innovate, or use a thousand other action verbs. And I can dig deep–use questions that reflect a higher level of understanding–“depth of knowledge”–as well.

“Regurgitate” is not a verb of higher-level learning. It’s what exam season reminds me of. Midterms and finals are high-stakes exams. They stress students to the highest level and waste time that I could spend teaching other things.

I try to lower anxiety when it comes to exams. When permitted to write an exam myself, I write an open-response exam that allows students to showcase research skills, offering a choice of prompts that access certain parts of the course material or skills. I want students to see they’ve used their time well this year, and that their brains are stronger as a result.

“You get a half-quarter’s worth of credit for two class periods of work,” I tell them. That’s the good news about exams. “That’s like a double coupon on steroids.”

Somehow, that doesn’t help much.

5 Formative Assessment Resources To Make It Better

This week’s Learnist feature is about things we could do in a perfect world that might just avoid the dreaded exam week. Do you have tips or tricks for student assessment? Please comment below or on these boards.

Analyzing Student Data

On this board, teacher Gwen Duralek talks assessing student data, and thinking about ways we can get them to higher and higher levels.

Formative Assessments

Formative assessments are those things we do on a day to day to check for student assessment and adjust–anything from a quiz or exit ticket to a clicker. There are so many things we do as force of habit to check learning, but if the old things are getting stale, there are a million fresh ideas about formative assessment–take some from and add your own to this board.


Alicia Sullivan blogs about things you can use in your classroom. This board has many components of assessment at all levels, including whether you should assess for compassion.

21st Century Assessment

Some lucky schools are well outfitted to tech-based assessment. If you are one of those schools, you get to use clickers, polls, and forms in real-time. Some programs even port that data into groupings and analyze student strengths and weaknesses without your having to stress over spreadsheets. That is a beautiful thing.

How They Get It: A New Simple Taxonomy for Understanding

This learning links to a TeachThought article which turns the concept of “understanding” upside down and reconstructs it at a higher level. Look at this “New Blooms Taxonomy” and see how it measures up against your thoughts about the traditional one.

As always, please add to or comment on the boards, or make your own to share. Follow Learnist on Facebook or reach out on Twitter @LearnistTweets.

Image attribution flickr user woodleywonderworks; Are Midterms Really Necessary In A Climate Of Assessment?