Semester Exams Update 2020-21

Scholarly Achievement is one of the defining characteristics of a Saint Joseph Prep education. Each student is called to excellence in the classroom; a love of learning is fostered through shared curiosity and collaboration; special emphasis is placed on critical thinking, effective writing, confident and articulate speaking, and creative and analytical problem-solving. Whether we are in person, or remote, the life of the mind is celebrated and learning for its own sake is honored. 

In Hybrid or Remote Learning scholarly achievement will continue to be centered around critical thinking, writing, speaking, and analytical problem-solving. There are unique challenges that come with designing, administering, and preparing students to take traditional semester exams in a hybrid or remote environment. Thus, teachers will not give traditional semester exams in their subject areas to conclude a semester.  

Student grades will be calculated using the following weightings: Q1: 25%, Q2: 25%, Q3: 25%, Q4: 25%.

In each Quarterly marking period, teachers will utilize best hybrid/remote practices and will continue to infuse opportunities for students to practice summative style assessments. 

  • In many cases, teachers will continue to utilize quizzes/tests within a hybrid /remote environment. Teachers may elect to give a series of short, low-stakes, timed quizzes to assess for student learning. 

  • Some teachers may elect to give an open-book test to conclude a unit, or quarter. In this case, teachers will work with their grade-level teams to ensure that these tests are organized where no more than two will fall on a given school day.  

  • Teachers have also been given the option to have students complete a project-based assessment, or paper, that will involve higher-level critical thinking skills and encompass course content from the semester. These assessment grades will be included in the student’s quarterly grade.  

  • Teachers will use the additional instructional time from exams week to carry on with their curriculum to ensure students have mastered the skills and content of their courses.

Rationale 

Assessments Will Continue This Year. The adjustment we’ve made does not change our commitment to giving students the opportunity to improve and practice taking assessments. Assessments will continue to be part of the curriculum within a Quarterly marking period. While we began this school year with the hope we would be able to offer semester exams, the increasing uncertainty about how COVID will impact our school calendar, led us to conclude that it would be unfair to ask students and teachers to plan and prepare for a series of high stake semester exams that may very well be interrupted or canceled due to COVID-19. It is helpful to know that many teachers, as part of their regular planning process, have already begun to infuse more frequent opportunities for students to practice planning and taking major assessments that mirror the experience of taking semester exams. Additionally, teachers will continue to offer alternative forms of assessment that are aligned with best hybrid/remote learning teaching practices, which ensure student grades accurately reflect their effort and hard work. The goal is that by implementing these changes we will ensure students continue to have opportunities to practice and build the skills they will need to be successful on larger summative-style assessments.  

Fairness and Equity. We remain committed to ensuring fairness and equity in the preparation and administration of semester exams. At SJP, our faculty excel in preparing students for these summative-style assessments. Teachers facilitate teacher-led review sessions, advisors and classroom teachers are proactive in teaching students study skills strategies and offering practical advice on how to prepare effectively for exams. In addition, students are able to take their semester exams in the presence of their subject teacher, in a controlled testing environment that is familiar to them and where they have the support they need to be successful. In these uncertain times, we cannot guarantee fair and equitable preparation and support for all students throughout the entire exam process. In addition, in the hybrid/remote model, where a sizable percentage of students are 100% remote, offering semester exams in a controlled exam environment where student mastery of content and skills could be consistently, fairly and equitably assessed creates real challenges. In addition, from a transcript and college admissions perspective, our academic institution cannot alter or modify exams for remote students, or a selected group of students from a course,  as it would undermine the integrity of the grades we publish. This alone, is not academically sound, is not equitable, and does not align with our mission. 

Academic Integrity. At the very heart of any learning community or scholarly institution is the matter of academic integrity. As a Catholic school, where character formation is just as important as intellectual education, this is even more the case. Unfortunately, there is no fool-proof solution to the challenge of ensuring academic integrity on online exams in the current learning environment. Indeed, universities and colleges struggle with the same challenge.  While a small number of institutions have experimented with the use of new technologies, such as webcam based monitoring, Saint Joseph Prep considers the use of such software for assessments ethically invasive. Employing surveillance and monitoring software is not what we are about at SJP and does not align with the mission and values of the school. As an institution, we have always erred on the side of assuming the best in our scholars and to utilize such software, we believe, would undermine such an approach. In all current forms, this software has been found to increase student anxiety around “false flags”. Various reports have also proven that this software monitoring is ineffective in eradicating academic integrity issues. 

College Preparedness Is Different This Year. Together, even amidst the COVID-19 pandemic, we are creating a culture of scholarship. Recently, scholarship at the college and university level has changed dramatically. As a college preparatory high school, it is our responsibility to be aware of those changes and respond accordingly. Faced with the COVID-19 pandemic, colleges and universities are also revisiting their assessment practices and many have removed traditional midterm/final exams from undergraduate programs for this school year. Many students are now being assessed through timed-quizzes, open-book tests, critical-thinking based open response questions, oral assessments, and project-based learning opportunities. Our best way forward is to continue to be adaptable and forward-thinking in order to provide our students with an academic experience that mirrors the college experience. 

The Value of Instructional Time. If all of our students were hybrid, and no students were 100% remote, the planning, preparation, and completion of two weeks of traditional exams would inevitably interrupt instructional momentum and eat into the instructional time available to teachers. In a year where the amount of in-person instruction will inevitably be impacted by COVID-19, we made the decision that maintaining momentum in the curriculum and maximizing the amount of instructional time available to our teachers should take priority, at least for this year.

Advanced Placement (AP) Exam Unknowns for 2021. In a typical year, semester exams prepare AP students for the upcoming AP exams in the spring. However, this has not been a traditional school year and students cannot expect AP exams to be administered in their traditional sense. In spring 2020, the CollegeBoard, the not-for-profit organization that administers the SAT and Advanced Placement (AP) exams, made major adjustments to the AP exams. In most cases, students were given short, open-note, open-response AP Exams—something new that was not a traditional summative assessment in any sense. For AP students, please be assured that our faculty will continue to find ways to offer practice AP exam assessments this school year within a quarterly marking period that mirror what students may see in the spring of 2021. 

The Future. Semester exams will continue to remain important elements of our curriculum program in a regular school year. At SJP, we believe that experiencing and practicing high stakes summative assessment, such as midterms/finals, are an important part of the preparation for college and life. Each of our upper-class students has already had the opportunity to experience numerous large-format summative exams at SJP. In the future, our students in the lower grades will be given plenty of opportunities to take semester exams later in their SJP experience.