No More Chemistry Tests

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No More Chemistry Tests

Sydney Eisenstein '22

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The science department has a new formula for chemistry classes. In the past, tests were a given, just like in any other science class. But this year, the department is applying a new equation. Instead of tests, students will take two to three quizzes each week based on the week’s curriculum. A drastic departure from the usual testing structure, this new learning model went into effect this fall as part of an innovative initiative in learning. 

Faculty members in the science department offered various explanations for the new test policy. Rabbi Blaustein said teachers noticed that there was a lot of stress and anxiety surrounding chemistry tests, which led them to explore alternatives. Ms. Brachot added that teachers reasoned that students were not keeping up with the pace of their classes and neglected lessons until immediately before the tests when many students would cram, which is an unproductive way of learning. Therefore, the science department thought that administering quizzes instead of tests would cause less stress and encourage students to keep up with the pace of the class each day.

The department also evaluated how other schools test students in science classes. Over the summer, Rabbi Blaustein and Dr. Rotenberg attended a workshop about standards-based grading (SBG). Standards-based grading is a system of education that focuses on students’ learning and assigns grades based on demonstrated comprehension of certain topics. The new quizzing method only applies to sophomore chemistry as of now, but the science teachers suggest that if the system is successful, it will likely be applied to other science classes. Since Rabbi Blaustein and Dr. Rotenberg both teach chemistry classes, they decided to test out the new methodology with their own classes first. The department as a whole will then assess the system before implementing it in other science courses.

Both teachers are concentrated on making SBG effective. Ms. Brachot said, “I think we hope that it will be a long-term plan, but it does depend on how successful it is.” Ramaz students are more familiar with taking science tests than quizzes, so the new policy is an adjustment for students, especially ones who are not used to reviewing class material or completing homework on a daily basis. 

With SBG, students must arrive prepared for class every day and then review the material taught that day nightly. The new technique permits teachers to see immediate feedback in their students’ comprehension of a specific topic. Dr. Rotenberg noted, “I gave a quiz in one class this morning, and we went over it immediately. I could see right away that some students got tens, and some had not. After I explained the problems on the quiz and answered a few questions, I asked the class if they thought they would have any trouble if they had a chance to retake the quiz tomorrow. Everyone responded that they were comfortable with the material.”

The new approach to testing is not really about the quizzes, rather about mastering specific topics. The method encourages a new approach to learning, known as mastery. Rabbi Blaustein said, “The new quizzing method relates to the general goals of school. I think this technique emphasizes learning more than grades. The goal of learning a specific topic is not getting a good grade, rather it is mastering and understanding the material.”

If SBG sounds like even more work than the traditional test-based method, students can take consolation in the fact that with the multiple quizzes, they will have more opportunities to make up their grades on a specific topic. Ms. Brachot added, “The quizzes give students more time to master a subject. In the past, you had one chance to prove you mastered something when you were tested on it. And you earned a bad grade if you didn’t fully master it. Now, if you do not understand a topic as well as you would like during the quiz, you will have a chance to make it up later on. Each quiz will count less than each test did towards your overall grade.” 

The quizzes also allow students the freedom and responsibility to decide how to prepare themselves for each topic; some may feel comfortable with the material after class and others might want to review it again at home. Will students prefer SBG to traditional exam-based class? The outcome of this experiment in science is yet to be discovered. 

 

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