Chemistry and the New Testing System: A Successful Bond?

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Eric Kalimi ’22

Last year, the science department decided that sophomores taking chemistry would no longer have conventional tests but instead have a standard-based learning system, which grades students based on their mastery of a skill. The science department made this decision primarily because they hoped to reduce the students’ stress the week before a test while allowing students to more easily organize their strengths and weaknesses in specific topics in the curriculum. The administration was excited by the idea of creating a new method to evaluate students. After a year of implementing this system with the class of 2022, students can now ask teachers to reflect on this system and share how they will revise the system for the upcoming years. 

After a year of using the system, science teachers found grading many short quizzes easier than grading tests, but they had difficulty scheduling and creating makeups. Since students requested to retake so many different weekly quizzes, it became very difficult to schedule makeup quizzes if students wanted to retry a standard; however, teachers decided to keep the makeup quizzes. Rabbi Blaustein explained that make-ups are important because they more accurately reflect life, in that one can initially fail at something but one can always learn it later to make up for it. Although tedious for the teachers, makeup quizzes created an incentive for students who are struggling in a specific topic to master that topic even after the quiz.

Ms. Brachot and the science department believe that the new system decreased the stress level of the students. The lack of regular tests covering months of material eliminated the anxiety students experience while trying to cram before the exam. The quizzes also allow for greater organization of the material in students’ brains; each skill is graded in its own category called a standard instead of grouping it with many others in a test. Although Ms. Brachot is unsure how the overall grades compared, Rabbi Blaustein said students feel that the class of 2022 did significantly better than the class of 2021 because of the new grading system, another indication that students are less stressed about chemistry.

After last year’s success, the new sophomores, the class of 2023, will also use the quiz system. In terms of safety for the coronavirus, students will take both online and in-person quizzes to help minimize the number of papers passing between the teachers and students.

Before school closed, the chemistry teachers held a town hall meeting to discuss students’ opinions about the new system to help improve it. Dr. Rotenberg says he made the decision to be more lenient in terms of grading because of what students said at the meeting. The science department seems open to constructive criticism for the new testing model despite its apparent success. Ms. Brachot mentioned the possibility of implementing this testing method in physics classes as well. She says the science department would at least like to see a full year of the new system in action before deciding to implement it in other science courses. Given last year’s success, it seems that tests will be a thing of the past in the science department.