ExamNation

downloadI don’t remember feeling as much stress in a school environment than when I went to write my first university examination. I had never written an evaluation in anything bigger than a classroom and there I was with over 1000 students in the gym in long rows of desks with a student card, two pens, and a queasy stomach! This is one of the reasons why we give our Mentor high school students the “experience” of final examinations in the gym every June and why our students will have up to 9 years of experience in the examination process before they start post-secondary studies.

Having reached the half-way point of the school year, over three-quarters of our students began writing a set of evaluations this week. Depending on the grade level, these might be called tests, evaluations, midterms, or examinations and because the terminology changes (especially from Grade 8 to Grade 9), I thought it would be appropriate to clarify the terminology and to let you know why we do what we do.

The similarities for ALL students writing evaluations this week is that they are being tested on all of the material covered so far this school year and the results of the evaluation will be shared with students and parents. There are differences on the reporting of results, the weighting of those results, and the terminology for evaluation (based on age and programme) which can be explained as follows:

The Junior students (Grade 5 and 6) at TEAM and Mentor’s Grade 4s are writing examinations. They are marked, reviewed and shared with parents but these results do not appear on the March progress report card. For most of these students, it is their first attempt at formal examinations and we want these students to get accustomed to the entire process without the need for a grade to appear on a report card.

Mentor’s Intermediate Division (Grades 5 to 8) and the Intermediate and Senior TEAM (Grade 7 and 8) students are also writing examinations. They are marked, reviewed, and shared and the results will appear on the March progress report. These students are being prepared for their secondary school years so we feel it is important to set students up for the next stage where grades become a more prevalent indicator of academic achievement.

Even they are studying in the highest academic level we offer, our high school (TSS and Mentor) students do NOT write examinations in January. Depending on who is describing them, you might hear them called mid-terms, mid-year evaluations, or major tests but they cannot officially be called examinations. Most students in Ontario are in a semestered system (two 5-month terms of up to 4 courses) but our students are in a full-year or traditional system (one 10-month year of up to 8 courses). The Ministry of Education says a final evaluation must be given at the end of a course and must make up 30% of the final grade. Our students are not finished their courses yet so they are writing evaluations that have a 10% weighting (based on the material studied so far) toward the final grade. A final examination for our high school students will concentrate more on the second half of the year but will still evaluate material from the entire course to satisfy this Ministry requirement. The Ministry also only allows schools 10 examination dates per year so we save these for June when the results are worth up to 30% and students can focus exclusively on studying (eg: students only come to school for their examination time).

Because our HS midterms are worth 10% of the final grade, I have downplayed their significance with my own kids (“they are just tests!”, I tell them) but Mentor principal Mr. Whyte says he doesn’t mind when parents and students call them exams because it shows they are taken seriously. He also notes that for his Grade 12 students, the midterm is almost like a final examination because it is the last (and in many cases, weightiest) evaluation on the marks passed along to the universities before they send out their acceptances. I never thought of it that way!

In the end, you want us to provide a solid foundation for your children so they can be successful in their post-secondary education. Studying for and writing evaluations (no matter what you call them) in a somewhat-compressed time period is part of the post-secondary experience so that is why we take the time twice a year to teach those skills and expose our students to the process. Students are reminded that part of that “process” is to study, keep hydrated, eat well, get lots of sleep and exercise and to listen to your parents when they tell you that you aren’t doing enough of any of those things!

Chris Starkey
Administrative Principal
Mentor College / TEAM School

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