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High School Final Exams Should Probably Be Replaced With a Real-World Project

Liz Dwyer

When you were in high school did you ever wonder why you had to take a final exam after you'd already taken (and passed) chapter tests and quizzes? Chicago teacher Ray Salazar doesn't see the logic, either. Instead of a big end-of-unit test, says Salazar, "The final assessment should not be a test—it should be a relevant real-world experience." Doing this would, as Salazar says, help keep the "focus on the learning—not the grade."

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  • Armando Garma

    I've been meaning to post to this thread for days and just now got to it. Problem based education is critical for the simple reason that once anyone enters the workforce regardless of what level of education they completed they will be faced with problems and tasks on a daily basis. I was lucky enough to receive my degree in architecture, and although I am no longer practicing architecture in the traditional sense, the problem based education that I received was critical to forming who I am today and how I am able to deal with real world situations.

  • Kris Giere

    A project is a much better capstone than a test. I would, however, like to see this a step toward rebuilding how we see curriculum and learning. Think of all the learning that could go on if we altered our education system to build toward a community impact Senior Capstone Project. This could be the start of something very cool.

    • Rodrigo Mejia

      Kris, I also completely agree. School curriculum is often locked away from the surrounding community, and it's a missed opportunity. Practice in what you're learning needn't always be restricted to a lab setting. There are places and textures in every school's community that can imprint a lesson better (and faster) than any round of testing. I'm always happy to see when an architecture program, for instance, includes case study projects on a specific, local site. It requires students to get outside the classroom and sense how their work fits into a real world setting. There's no reason "hands-on" experience and schooling need to be separate.

      • Kris Giere

        Locked away is right. School is becoming more and more locked away: the property is off-limits without special permission, the curriculum is sucked into a vacuum, the social circles intersect less and less outside of the building, the locker room, the classroom, etc., the ideas are labeled as "school knowledge" or "college track" or "academic" vs. "real world" or "practical" or whatever else. We need to break away from putting school into a controlled environment. Instead, we need to place it back into our daily lives, our communities, our social centers, our hearts. Why is the presumption that compulsory education has to be separate from the world we live in? Why can't it integrated into all that matters to us most?

        • Liz Dwyer

          Your point about the labeling is such a good one--the labeling is just so pervasive. Academic and real world should be one and the same, and yet so much of the conversation in education communities revolves around "college or career ready"--as if they're two different things.

          • Kris Giere

            I know. It can't just be those of us on this thread that see the necessary and real connections, right?

  • Alessandra Rizzotti

    Totally agree that real-life experiences win over testing. I had a weird real-life project in seventh grade to plan a trip to Mecca. This was before the internet- so it was a lot of travel agency work- but not really valuable as let's say, working at a nonprofit or social impact space. Teachers should partner up with orgs to bring real-life experiences to their students. Do you know of any teachers who do that?