Many students know that taking midterm and final exams is not easy and can be stressful. Many even wish for it to be canceled. Given the circumstances with the COVID-19 pandemic and remote learning, this year at Malden High School, that actually happened. There were multiple reasons behind this decision.
For Principal Christopher Mastrangelo, “the conversation around midyears and finals [for] this year really started last spring when [the administrators] talked about the way [they] were grading at the end of the year.”
Kelly Chase, the Assistant Superintendent of the Malden Public Schools, reflected on the end of the 2019-2020 academic year, saying that “when [they] first started the school closure and the pandemic,” many things were up for discussion. Ultimately the school district decided to cancel the final exams “because they are traditionally in paper format, [which required] students to sit for them . . . that [did not] land itself with the pandemic and the reduction in learning time that [they] had.”
Adding onto that thought, Erin Craven, the Director of Guidance at Malden High School, stated that “everyone in the school felt that the amount of formative assessments and what [they] all think of as a traditional test was probably not the best education [they] should be offering any of [the] students during those weeks.”
Chase listed the thoughts and questions that administrators considered when making their decision. For example, she went into detail about how they started to talk about factors that will make taking the exams difficult, so they made a pros and cons list and they had meetings with directors and the principal, and with some lead teachers at the high school in order to ensure that they got everybody’s input.
They also discussed the challenges that assessments would bring at this time, which considered the social and emotional needs of students. She stated that when it comes to mental health, “getting enough of your basic needs met during a pandemic” is what they need to focus on “first and foremost, and then a paper and pencil test, secondly.”
Chase also expressed “when [they] think about equity, [they] want to make sure that everyone has the ability to access an exam with the right amount of time, resources and to be able to show what they know and do well on it.”
Mastrangelo thought that “there [would have] been a real rush for teachers to get to that point to give the test.” He does not “think the level of learning would’ve been as deep as the staff would’ve wanted it to be,” adding that “by eliminating that pressure of having to get to this point for the midyear, allowed faculty to slow down and go deeper into the content. He does not believe that students would have been as prepared for a test this year, as they normally would have been.
Mastrangelo further explained that they still allowed the teachers the choice to have their own assessment to incorporate into the overall grade of Quarter 2. He said that this decision should have "eliminated a lot of stress from students and faculty alike.”
Grading is also an entirely different subject that the administrators in Malden had to figure out during a global pandemic. Craven explained the thought process and how “the traditional midterm exam or midyear assessment is 10% of students’ final grades in the year. For Quarter 1 and Quarter 2, each quarter is now with 25% instead of 20%, so that the 10% that represented the exam got distributed as 25% and 25% instead of 20% and 20%." Adding that this was something at the district level that Dr. Chase "wanted to be very careful about... because [they] know how important that it is to students and families to maintain integrity with the grading system while still eliminating this exam.”
Craven explained how “[it is] so hard to say in this year of a global pandemic what the academic impact may or may not be in a wider sense. [She] thinks that in the immediate sense, the social, emotional, and physical well-being of [their] students is paramount to all the educators in Malden." Knowing all this, she would agree that it was a good and positive decision for students "to eliminate that one potential stressor that [they] can control for this school year.”
Craven believed and “[was] hopeful that students are still learning all the topics that they want to learn and should be learning so that at the end of the year, simply missing a 2-hour test won’t have a large impact on their learning."
Mastrangelo wanted students and families to know that “none of this is ideal and everybody is working at different levels,” whether that be academically, socially, or emotionally. The staff is “trying very hard to streamline [their] expectations of what [they] want,” but still achieve those “high levels of expectations for what [they] want.”
This year more than ever, Mastrangelo and the faculty are “really trying to meet people where they are at.”