3 schools to drop midterm exams Move should increase time for instruction

September 05, 1996|By Howard Libit | Howard Libit,SUN STAFF

In an effort to create more time for teaching, three Howard County high schools -- Howard, Long Reach and River Hill -- are eliminating midterm exams this year and reducing the number of report cards they will issue.

The changes are aimed at solving one of the biggest problems caused by the switch of some Howard County high schools to a four-period day -- that report cards come out so often, teachers and students focus more on grades than on learning.

"It seemed like every time you turned around, you had to issue a new set of grades," said Howard High math teacher Pat Call. "Eight report cards a year and eight sets of progress reports were just too much."

Teachers applaud the move, saying they can stop tailoring their lesson plans to monthly report cards and won't lose a week of instruction to midterm exams.

But students are more wary of the changes, worrying about keeping up with how they're doing in classes and whether the loss of midterm exams will make final exams more difficult.

The changes are scheduled to be presented to the Howard County school board next week, said Eugene Streagle, the county's instructional coordinator of high schools.

The board does not need to approve the schools' decisions, but it must approve changes to the school system's policy on high school grading.

The three high schools making the changes are the only three among the county's 10 high schools that use the "semester model" of the four-period day.

Howard High has used that model since 1993, and the staffs at Long Reach and River Hill decided last spring to adopt it for this year.

Under the semester model, students take the same four 90-minute classes each day and cover a year's worth of material in a semester. They take a different set of four classes in the second semester, allowing them to earn eight credits a year.

That intensive schedule meant that teachers had to turn in grades almost every four weeks to meet the school system's requirement that report cards be issued quarterly.

Progress reports and deficiency notices were given halfway into the quarter -- or just two weeks into a new grading period.

"Under the old system, progress reports would be going out this week, when we're still trying to figure out who is here," said Howard High Principal Mary Day. "This makes it more reasonable."

Last spring, Howard High seniors received a fourth-quarter report card based on just three days of work, said computer teacher James Rostron. Seniors typically graduate two weeks before the end of the school year, but the school days canceled during last winter's snowstorms pushed back the end of the third quarter until right before the seniors' last day.

"What could we really grade them on? What did that grade mean?" Rostron said.

The three high schools are reducing the number of report cards from eight a year to six a year -- dividing each semester into three grading periods. That still will be more than the four quarterly report cards given at the county's seven other high schools.

Teachers say that the change will allow them to do more long-term projects and spend less time trying to adjust their lesson plans to spread work evenly over four grading periods per semester. Less time will be spent on paperwork related to turning in grades.

"At the beginning of the year, you hardly get to know their names and you're already having to make sure there's enough graded work to give them a report card," said chemistry teacher Gertrude Kerr. "This will give us more time."

Teachers also predict that students won't be thinking constantly about grades. "There will be some time for reflection on what they are learning," Call said.

Students agree that monthly report cards were too frequent, but say they're going to have to pay more attention to keeping up with their progress in classes.

"It's going to put more responsibility on us to keep track of our grades," said Howard High junior Charisse Ferrer, 17. "I like to know how I'm doing, so I'll have to be sure that I keep up."

The decision to eliminate midterm exams was made because schools using the semester model of the four-period day had to use regular school days to give the tests. Final exams are given during the half-days in January that the county's other high schools use for midterms.

"We had to spend time reviewing for the midterms, and during the week designated for midterms, we had to cut back on our lessons to give the students time to study," Call said. "This gives us a lot more time for instruction."

A concern of some students is that eliminating the midterms means that final exams will cover the material from an entire course instead of just the second half.

"The tests are going to be a lot tougher because more material will be covered by them," said senior N'Jai-An Patters, 17. "The midterm was a nice way to review the first half of the class and make sure we were caught up."

But senior Josh Rosenblatt, 16, also acknowledged that "giving us just a final exam is more like college. It will better prepare us."

Giving just a final exam also should be a strong preparation for what students will be facing on the state Department of Education's new high school assessment, said Streagle, the county's instructional coordinator for high schools.

The assessment -- expected to be in place for the class of 2004 -- will require students to pass a series of exams at the end of required classes in such subjects as English, math, science and social studies.

Pub Date: 9/05/96

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