For my five years teaching at my previous job, the grading and exam breakdown was pretty simple since we were on block scheduling:  First nine weeks, second nine weeks, exams.  Some teachers gave midterms, but I never did – I figured that was time I could spend teaching history on our very tight schedule instead of just putting the brakes on everything for three days to review and then test.

So, along with our students, I’m going through midterm exams for the first time.  We’re on a year-long traditional schedule, and each semester exam – the midterm in the fall and the final in the spring – counts for 20 percent of a student’s semester grade, with the two quarter grades making up the other 80.  Since it’s such a big chunk of their grades, we’ve spent the last three days stressing how important it is and reviewing in our classes.

The problem is that we can’t get the students to understand how important they are.

Every December and April, I get a huge charge out of the exams-related Facebook posts from my former students; “OMG OMG OMG EXAMS ARE KILLING MEEEEEEEEE!” is one of the more recent meltdowns I saw come across my timeline.  Then again, they’ve been through tons of finals in high school and college.  It’s a little hard to forget that our students have never really taken a big test that counts before.  As far as I know, the end-of-grade tests in middle school don’t impact students’ grades.  Middle school grades don’t really count at all, if you think about it – colleges aren’t going to see those grades.  But starting in ninth grade, the meter is running – these grades impact athletic eligibility, the ability to keep a driver’s license, college applications, you name it.

So it was a little unsettling when I heard students discussing the midterms with a pretty cavalier attitude as recently as two days ago.  I guess they thought that we’d do three days of intensive review and alter the schedule for two-hour-long periods for four days to give a 25-question test or something.  Yesterday, I stood up in front of all of my classes and did the best I could to scare the crap out of them.

“It’s a little troubling,” I began, “that there doesn’t seem to a healthy amount of panic, or at least a sense of urgency, about these midterms.”  The kids idly sat there for the most part; a few were goofing off on their computers.  Time to turn up the heat, Drake.

“These exams cover everything you’ve done so far this year.  I know the English Department’s midterm is 100 questions.”

Some eyes got bigger as I got ready to throw down the gauntlet.

“…and the World Civ midterm is 125.”

At this point, the room sounded like the angry crowds in a South Park episode.  You could see it in their eyes now.  A HUNDRED AND TWENTY-FIVE QUESTIONS?!  HOLY SHIT!!!  Not that I took pleasure in their newfound horror – okay, so I took a little pleasure in it – but it was a relief to see the gravity of what they were about to embark on finally fall on them.

So today, every kid – even the ones who are usually the hardest to get to focus – was locked in.  Doing our sample multiple choice questions online, helping each other with their study guides, asking me questions, and trying.  I’m hoping it continues tomorrow as we wrap up review, and carries over into Thursday when our freshmen take the first tests in their lives that actually count.

And hopefully, we as teachers will be able to grade them and realize that they learned something this year – that all the hard work has paid off.

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