Sophomore Stephanie Ye talks with a woman at a retirement home in China. Ye volunteered there over winter break as part of her world cultures final and her sophomore project. (Photo courtesy of Ye)

From take-home tests to volunteer work, fewer finals given as ‘classic exams’

From Tuesday, Jan. 22, to Thursday, Jan. 24, Country Day high school students will be sitting in neat rows and columns in the gym, completing final exams for their first semester classes.

Well, most students.

This year, a wide range of classes — from language to history to computer science — are instead giving final exams ahead of time.

For instance, the AP Computer Science Principles class had a final on Jan. 20, the Thursday before finals week.

Teacher Fred Jaravata said he decided to give the final a week early in order to “spread out the studying.”

“I remember growing up and taking finals when I was in school, and I remember struggling with all these tests happening at the same time,” Jaravata said. “And professionally, I’ve learned over the years that finals are important; however, the stress level should be minimized. You have a better outcome to give (the test) early so it doesn’t coincide with so many things going on.”

Jaravata added that since the AP Computer Science Principles course was created only three years ago, he still has some freedom with the final he gives. This year, students had 20 multiple choice questions, which covered all the topics they had learned during the first semester.

“This is my first year teaching this course, so (next year) I’m definitely going to tweak the final,” Jaravata said. “I might have multiple choice and open-ended questions, but I think I’m going to stick to this earlier schedule.”

U.S. History teacher Tucker Foehl is also allowing students to take his final ahead of time, according to junior Rebecca Waterson.

“We had the option of doing a take-home final or taking the final during the normal time,” she said.

Waterson is doing the take-home final, in which she is writing essays on two of five possible prompts. Junior Charles Thomas, on the other hand, decided to take the regular final.

“I want my knowledge of what we have covered this semester to be assessed rather than my ability to re-read the packets and present an argument in two essays,” he said.

However, many students, like senior Alex Rogawski, appreciated taking some finals ahead of time.

Of Rogawski’s five classes, two had finals a week early: Jaravata’s AP Computer Science Principles class and AP Microeconomics, taught by Chris Millsback.

“I liked having those finals ahead of time because it spaced everything out a lot more,” Rogawski said. “(Now), I have more time to study for this week’s finals.”

AP Microeconomics has always had its final ahead of time, due to students often taking other history or math courses as well, according to Millsback. Therefore, in order to avoid giving the final on Thursday, Jan. 24, as a “double discipline,” Millsback has always given the final the week before.

Similarly, many of Jane Batarseh’s Latin classes take part of the final the week before, according to senior Joe Mo, who is in Latin IV.

“Usually, we take half (of the final) in class and a translation portion during finals week,” Mo said, which is what he’s been doing since his freshman year in Latin I.

In Bill Crabb’s World Cultures class, however, the final isn’t structured like a test. Rather, his students are doing six hours of volunteer work in a topic related to their sophomore project.

“Memorizing content for a history final takes a lot of time and offers very little value,” Crabb said. “Memorization and test taking have little real-world application.”

Head of high school Brooke Wells agreed, adding that there have always been projects done in lieu of a final (such as the sophomore project replacing the end-of-year exam).

“The question becomes what is it exactly that we are trying to assess,” Wells said. “The push against the classic exam is that really, after university work, you’re not going to do that very often.”

Crabb added that instead, he hopes his final will allow students to engage with the local community and will “add depth to the sophomore project.”

For instance, Crabb mentioned students volunteering at the Sacramento County Youth Commission as part of a sophomore project on LGBT experiences, recording oral histories for the library for a project on Japanese internment during World War II, working with an animal shelter and volunteering at the zoo for projects on animal rights, and volunteering at WEAVE for a project about human trafficking.

For students who couldn’t find volunteer opportunities directly related to their topic, however, Crabb said they could work at the Sacramento Room or the Sacramento History Museum.

In fact, Crabb is driving some students over two separate weekends in order to allow everyone to do volunteer work rather than take a traditional final.

—Allison Zhang

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