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Optional assessments before final

As finals week approaches, the stakes of critical cumulative assessments loom over the students of Palo Alto High School. This time is particularly stressful for students with a borderline grade — where the final exam will determine their grade for the semester. There is a way to alleviate student stress while reinforcing material taught over the course of the semester: optional retakes and assignments.

Optional retakes are quite simple — students are given the opportunity to relearn the material they misunderstood the first time, and demonstrate their knowledge by taking a revised test or rewriting an unsatisfactory essay. The student’s score on the revised assessment is then substituted if it is higher than the original score.

This practice would give students the opportunity to raise their grades, reducing the stakes and  subsequent stress of the final exam. However, the greater benefit is that it helps students encode a topic from short-term memory into long-term storage. Studies have shown that after cramming the night before, students typically lose 40 percent of the learned information within seven days.

However, subsequent review sessions allow students to retain more of the information for longer periods of time.

Furthermore, the most successful review sessions are ones that involve active testing of knowledge through quizzes and answering questions. Students reviewing for the optional retake would be actively retesting their knowledge, which in turn is preparing them to better retain that information and perform well on the final exam. The bottom line: retesting is relearning.

The purpose of a classroom is not to hand out a certain percentage of A’s, B’s and C’s — it is to ensure that students learn the material as thoroughly as possible.

Another solution is for teachers to offer optional projects and assignments for students to complete at the end of the semester. Such assignments, such as an additional essay or passage analysis in an English course or a conceptual explanation video for a science class, would allow students to practice or relearn material, while also adding additional points to their grade.

Such optional assignments could be announced by the teacher at the beginning of the school year or  quarter, and made optional for students who are satisfied with their grade in the class.

By completing these projects and assignments, students worried about their grade prior to the final will have another opportunity to improve their standings.

That said, The Campanile feels that these retakes and extra assessments should be made optional. There is little incentive for students who performed well in the class originally to retake the tests or complete extra work, and there are also a certain number of students who performed poorly simply because they do not care.

The optional nature of the retakes allows the teacher to distinguish between students who are having trouble with the material versus students who lack interest and motivation. If required, exams could place an undue amount of work on teachers. The optional retakes would benefit students who performed poorly on the original assessment, but are ready to put in the necessary effort to properly learn the material.

The retake would give these students the opportunity to demonstrate commitment, and foster long-term retention of class material in the process.

The purpose of a classroom is not to hand out a certain percentage of A’s, B’s and C’s — it is to ensure that students learn the material as thoroughly as possible. Student learning must come first, and the more opportunities students have to test their knowledge, the greater their learning will be.

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