By Kevin Kelley
Semester exams at Fairview High School will be in a new format this year.
The goal is for teachers to move away from multiple-choice question, often answered by filling in ovals on an answer sheet that’s graded by a scanner, to assessments that require students to be more reflective.
Fairview High School Principal Chris Vicha announced the test format change in a letter to parents last month.
“Our intent is to engage students in authentic tasks by asking them to think deeply and problem solve,” Vicha wrote. “This might mean using course content to participate in a simulation, conduct research, pursue an investigation, debate an issue, create a model, test a solution, or design communication.”
Vicha, in his first year as principal after eight years as an associate principal at Fairview High, said the new types of test questions will call on students to provide “more meaningful constructed responses.”
The semester exams might include questions such as “Why is what I learned useful or important?” or “When and how will I use this learning again?” Vicha said.
Melanie Wightman, the Fairview Park City Schools’ director of teaching and learning, said the new approach to semester exams might involve students rotating through learning stations and writing explanations about what they’ve learned.
“The push it toward a much more active event,” Wightman said of the new testing approach.
Superintendent Bill Wagner said the goal is to ask students more complex questions, not ones that could be answered by doing a Google search. To be prepared for a 21st-century world, students need to not only access information but also evaluate and apply that information to real-world problems, he said.
The changes to the semester exams, to be administered Dec. 14-18, are unrelated to the district’s adoption of Ohio’s New Learning Standards – the Buckeye State’s official term for the Common Core State Standards, plus additional standards. But Wagner and Wightman say the test changes are in line with the district’s ongoing efforts to add “rigor and relevance” and “deeper learning” to the curriculum.
In an effort to help students see their studies in a larger context, many teachers are having students create blogs about their assignments. For example, a math class blog might include a video of a student explaining how he or she solved and graphed an algebraic equation. Students in the district’s grade school and middle school are also blogging.
Wightman said the blogging coincides with a growing trend of students creating educational portfolios, which can be submitted as part of one’s college application.
“It’s a different way of teaching than we were all taught,” Wagner said of the educational changes.
One benefit of the new approach, Wagner said, is that teachers are collaborating and sharing ideas more than ever before.