Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Good students failing final exams in high school in well-to-do Washington area suburb

There has been interesting media attention in recent days to  the high failure rates of students in final examinations in high schools in Montgomery County, MD (near Washington DC) , even students who have been making A’s and B’s during the year.

Final exams in the county count 25% of the grade, according to reports.
The North Potomac Patch ran an analysis here

The Washington Post has a story by Donna St. George here

The biggest rates of failure seem to occur in mathematics and history. 

When I went to high school (graduated Washington-Lee in Arlington VA in 1961), teachers made u the final exam, which counted 20% (as one quarter).  It appears likely that the school district departments make up standard examinations for all teachers to use.  That would be more like the SOL’s, which in most states are largely multiple choice. 

Failures of finals in Honors and AP courses were less frequent, but still could happen.

How well can I remember my own high school finals?

In geometry (tenth grade then), the exam consisted mostly of problems to “prove”, with some Pythagorean Theorem problems, area calculations, and inferences from diagrams. 

In algebra, the exam consisted mostly of problems similar to the homework all year.

In physics, the same was true, but you can get creative on a physics test.  Imagine a test problem based on the geometry of the outfield of a major league baseball park.

In chemistry, you would predict reactions, balance equations, solve some concentration of solution problems. 
In biology, you would have to solve a genetics problem, and work with phylum characteristics, and draw and label organisms, and compare organisms, and explain basic biological processes.   Now much alike are cats and dogs, and how are they different? 

In American History, we had to choose just ten out of twenty-five essay questions.  I remember questions on (1) The Fall Line (2) the significance of the 14th Amendment (3) the reasons why the Bill of Rights was drawn up (4) mercantilism in colonial America and why it can matter today (5) why Woodrow Wilson became so aggressive in conducting World War I (6) understanding the status of the freed slaves during Reconstruction through today, (7) Manifest destiny and imperialism  (8) Comparing democracy, communism, fascism.  (See main blog, Sept. 14, 2007). 

In English, there was a tendency to split the courses between grammar (including vocabulary) and literature.  Tenth grade (a young male teacher with a background in football) was interesting.  We had read Julius Caesar, Silas Marner, some poems and short stories.  (Now, the reading is usually “Lord of the Flies”, “Night”, “The Great Gatsby”).   I remember a final exam question on Julius Caesar that asked us to analyze the motives of some of the characters (especially Brutus and Antony).  I think there was something about compassion in “Silas Marner”.  In Junior English, “The Scarlet Letter” had been required, and most people read “House of Seven Gables” as a book report.   “The Red Badge of Courage” had been required.  So had some of Poe’s stories  and poems – but most students enjoyed those because they were the basis of “horror movies”.  In Junior English we had more multiple choice and true-false than in tenth – the female  teacher – who handed out candy during the 3-hour exam.  I think that the literature of Puritanism created the most problems for studying. 

OK, kids, I used to sub in Arlington and Fairfax schools. I’ve given you a hint as to what to study for, a hint as to what is on the test. 

I would be honored if a question on something in one of my books (about “don’t ask don’t tell” and so many other parepetia) would show up on a final. 
Once I saw a young male teacher grading and re-inking themes on the Metro.  Another time I saw young male another teacher with copies of what looked like a calculus test.  He accidentally dropped them on the floor of the train car. 

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