As RBHS students and staff enter the last week of first semester, students will take final exams as usual but with substantial changes because of district-wide COVID-19 school shutdowns.
In addition to being virtual, many teachers are changing the way they traditionally conduct final exams in their classes. Among them is Shawnna Matteson, Advanced Placement (AP) World Studies teacher.
“Normally we have LEQ [long essay question] presentations that [review] the historical content of the entire semester,” Matteson said. “This year, virtual learning has slowed us down quite a bit in our progress of learning essay styles and writing them quickly. Our students have only done one full essay, an LEQ. So, our final for this year is a DBQ [document based question].”
Matteson said students need to hone their skills in writing a DBQ, so she and Gregory Irwin, her partner teacher, set up conferences with students to help them revise their essays. Malcolm Smith, who taught AP Physics 1 and 2 this semester, is also changing the way he has typically held finals.
“Normally I give a previous year’s AP test in class,” Smith said. “Multiple choice [questions] one class (90 min) and free-response the next class and we usually do that the week before the AP exam. Not this year.”
This semester, Smith is opting for a multiple choice only final to practice for the multiple choice AP test section. There will be no free-response questions in this semester’s final exams.
Students are also adjusting with this period of learning changes. Junior Charlotte Ries described feeling overwhelmed by the uncertainty of this year’s final exams.
“One of my finals is a journal conference, which I think a fair amount of english teachers at RBHS do. It’s not my favorite way to do a final, but it’s definitely less stressful than others,” Ries said. “For my other class we don’t know what the final is yet, which definitely adds to the stress.”
Ries said the virtual format complicates final exams for her. She described her worries with the grading policy.
“If this year wasn’t virtual, I wouldn’t be super worried about finals because I only have two classes at the moment. The thing that worries me the most is how the district is making teachers weight tests,” Ries said. “The 90% assessment policy makes grades a lot more variable this year so it’s worrying that you can’t create a safety net before the final.”
Along with the usual stress that comes with finals week, Matteson said there is a prolonged problem with low student participation in the virtual format. She said students are struggling with the school workload more than usual, and some provide little or no signs of activity in the class.
“I think the pandemic adds a layer of stress that can’t be really measured. Most of the students do quite well at completing work, even if a little late, and they have been fantastic about attendance,” Matteson said. “Unfortunately participation has been difficult to encourage.”
Amid the stress of finals and the end of first semester, Smith is able to reflect. He said he’s impressed by the perseverance of his students.
“My AP Physics 1 and 2 kids that have stuck with the class have been incredible. I really admire them for their patience, persistence and effort and work quality,” Smith said. “I just wish I knew what they look like in case they ever come to my door to say ‘hello.’”
How do you feel about final exams this semester? Let us know in the comments below.