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The Evaluation Game - High School Exams Unpacked

While many high school students don’t give final exams much thought until it comes time to pack them in a box, educators often struggle with defining the purpose of these assessments.

Among the latest front-page controversies was an algorithmic scoring system used by England’s Ofqual that appeared to unfairly downgrade students from less-advantaged schools.

Final Exams

While many educators feel a sense of importance for final exams, they can have a hard time articulating what purpose these tests serve. Often they account for 20% of the course’s grade, giving them heightened weight and teaching students that their whole grade depends on one test.

Making exams less impactful would be a good idea, but the final should still be a useful tool for assessing learning. It should be similar in structure to other course assessments and shouldn’t be too different, such as using a variety of item types (m-c, short answer, essay). Finally, students should be encouraged to develop the study skills necessary to take cumulative exams at the college level. This is how most courses at the Masters and Doctorate levels are assessed, and students shouldn’t be deprived of these opportunities to prepare for higher education.

Standardized Tests

Standardized tests are questions given to everyone at the same time that are scored and ranked in a comparable way. This allows for a reliable comparison of test results across schools and students. Standardized tests can be multiple-choice or open-ended.

Standardization is important because it allows for accurate, objective data that can be compared and used to evaluate schools and teachers. It's also one of the most impactful tools that civil rights advocates use to highlight systemic issues and disparities in education.

Despite this, standardized testing is not without its problems. Many educators feel that standardized assessments have become too high stakes, leading to teachers "teaching to the test." The generated data can also be misleading and doesn't always give teachers useful information they didn’t already know.

Grading System

In addition to deciding where you go to college and what kind of scholarships you’ll receive, high school grades affect your self-worth and can even impact your mental health. With so much riding on them, it’s no wonder that students fixate on their scores.

Standardization and universality: Grades are recognized around the world and provide a quantifiable scale to measure your academic performance. Some schools also add a plus or minus to the letter grade, for example A+ yields 4.33 while an A- yields 3.33.

However, the system can also inflate the grades of students. For instance, a student who scored a centum without mistakes will be grouped together with a 90 replete with many mistakes and the former one might feel demotivated. This is known as grade inflation and needs to be addressed.

Pass Rates

The proportion of students who successfully pass an examination or other assessment. This metric is often used as a way to evaluate the quality of a school's teaching and learning, but it cannot accurately reflect disparities in starting points for students.

High school exams don't just determine academic success; they also impact the social fabric of a student's life. While we've all heard stories about the 17-year old that founded a nonprofit or solved a medical mystery, those are the exceptions.

NCARB shares ARE 5.0 exam division pass rates for both first-time and repeat test takers. We encourage you to explore and compare these national averages. The ARE 5.0 Part 3 pass rate has been the highest in recent years, but it's not immune to fluctuation.

Test Preparation

The word “test preparation” conjures images of frantic students trying to cram textbook chapters and lecture notes into their brains the night before, or even a few hours before, an exam. But it doesn’t have to be that way.

Teachers are often open to sharing suggestions (or secrets!) about what topics and questions will be included on an exam. Look for them to tell you whether the test will be multiple choice or short answers, and if it will include essay sections.

By developing the right testing-taking strategies, students can reduce their stress levels, improve focus, and avoid procrastination. These skills will serve them well as they pursue higher education and careers. Learn how Paraclete’s unique curriculum and community will help your student achieve sustainable academic success.