No more tests—computer proficiency exam eliminated by curriculum changes

Right before taking final exams, students are always reminded: don’t forget to take your computer proficiency test —you need it to graduate.

But starting this year, that pesky little exam is no more.

The programs it tested—Microsoft Word, PowerPoint and Excel—all have a niche in required high school courses, making the test unnecessary.

“We felt it was more effective to have it within the content of the academic classes,” Sue Nellis, head of high school, said.

“There were always problems (getting people to take the test). Everybody eventually did it, but it was sometimes like pulling teeth.”

The test was split into three parts—one for each program—so students could fail specific parts and retake only those.

Students had to create documents to show their competence in each part—documents, simple slide shows, spreadsheets and graphs.

Microsoft Word is a basic prerequisite for all English classes—by high school, nearly everyone can use it.

“Most (students) know enough about it that we don’t have to show them how to input documents,” English teacher Brooke Wells said.

PowerPoint and Excel, on the other hand, are introduced intentionally into the sophomore curriculum via the sophomore project and the required chemistry class, respectively.

Chemistry teacher Alan Beamer sets aside two weeks near the beginning of the year to teach his students Excel, which he later tests them on.

Beamer also requires students to use Excel for lab reports throughout the year.

Beamer has always taught Excel in his curriculum—even before he came to Country Day—as Excel is the most-used program in the world, he said.

His first year teaching at Country Day, however, he did not include Excel. So this year’s seniors who did not continue to AP Chemistry weren’t exposed to the program.

These students—or others who didn’t take Beamer’s sophomore class—still must prove proficiency.

“I track them down before they graduate and we find a mutual time and I run them through a few days of the curriculum,” Beamer said.

Unlike Excel, PowerPoint isn’t explicitly taught in class, but is included in the sophomore projects—students must be able to use it for their presentations.

Still, most students have at least a basic understanding of these three programs without teaching.

“Interestingly enough, when I asked this year who had experience with Excel, almost everyone raised their hands,” Beamer said.

And Wells doesn’t even have to bother teaching Word and PowerPoint.

“I can’t recall anyone ever asking me how to use PowerPoint,” he said.

The sophomore project has existed for only four years, and Beamer has taught at this school for only two years, making this year’s seniors the first class with all three programs in their curriculum.

On top of all this, the laptop pilot program  further supports removing the proficiency test, Nellis said.

So by the end of senior year, the odds of anybody not being able to use a computer is rather low.

“Why force you guys to take a test on something you already know?” Wells said.

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