A reflection on Payton’s finals grading policy: adopting a new plan

By Ella Schaffer, Staff Writer

During the remote learning school year of 2020-2021, Walter Payton’s finals policy stated that final exams and projects couldn’t lower a student’s overall letter grade. Teachers that administered a unit exam, or other end-of-unit assessment instead of a final also had to provide students with the possibility of retaking such an exam. Such a policy has not been formally put in place for the 2021-2022 school year.

Finals are worth a considerable amount, thus they can greatly impact a student’s grade. Final grades can lower a hard-working student’s low “A” to a “B”, despite all of the work that the student put into the class throughout the semester. Most Payton students take six or seven classes in total each year (both honors and AP classes). During finals, a student has to study for all six/seven classes at once. Such a task, along with mandatory homework, can be extremely difficult as some students don’t have the time to study for that long due to child/grandparent care, jobs, at-home responsibilities, etc. One test, the final, does not give an accurate representation of someone’s true performance. Students could be having a bad day due to exhaustion or stress. 

Payton students specifically are very attentive to their grades. Although it is unlikely for all students from all schools to stay up all night to study for a final to get an A in a class or to finish hours of graded homework, lots of Payton students are prepared to do that due to the competitive and academic culture of the school.The circumstances that finals create for students “normalize” dangerous behaviors such as student burnout, poor eating and sleeping habits, and other side effects of constant stress. Finals can force students to stay up all night cramming or studying. Students are already faced with a difficult and demanding course load throughout the semester, bringing stress and anxiety throughout the semester. Finals often worsen the stress and anxiety that students face.

Payton students are known to be achieving, successful, yet constantly stressed individuals due to the environment that the school holds. Payton has a demanding curriculum with its homework, tests, content difficulty, and expectations for students. Stress is not good for the body– leading to bad mental health and possibly bad coping mechanisms. This can even lead to a student giving up, not caring (apathy towards finals), or potential student burnout. Studies have shown that teenagers entering high school have a higher chance of being depressed and anxious than in middle school. The added pressure of school work and exams is often a factor in these statistics. In a recent national survey, 70 percent of teens claimed that anxiety and depression were a “major problem” among students.

 Finals test people’s test-taking skills, and not everyone excels in that area. The pressure of finals can lead to some students deciding to take easier classes. Frantic studying for finals or finishing hour-long homework can be seen by students studying/doing homework during lunch periods, passing periods, and other classes. Finals have been proven to be less effective than project-based learning as finals (that don’t allow the possibility to retake) do not allow students to learn from their mistakes. Finals do not help students retain information. Cognitive scientists Daniel Willingham and Robert Bjork explain that “Two weeks after students had taken their final exam and they did not remember more than 90% of the information.” There are unit tests and homework throughout the year which already give teachers and students an accurate representation of the knowledge a student has. Unit tests throughout the year also allow students to learn from their mistakes and grow academically. Finals are not beneficial for students in the sense that it does not prepare them for the real world. The idea of finals is rarely seen in the workforce. 

If the finals wouldn’t be able to lower a student’s grade, then a student with an “A” in several classes and a “B” in others could focus on the classes that they would have a “B” in. When finals have the ability to lower a student’s grade, they jeopardize the A’s that a student has already worked hard for. 
Thus, certain students at Payton believe that adopting a finals policy that prohibits the possibility of reducing a students’ final letter grade may be best or a policy that abolishes the finals indefinitely.

Payton’s current finals schedule.

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