Sunday, December 14, 2014

How does being a PLC affect student exam week?

If you are like most high school principals as I am this time of year, your students are very likely to either be taking exams this week or soon after Winter Break.

For us, Tuesday - Friday is exam time, with Periods 1-2 on Tuesday, periods 3-4 on Wednesday, periods 5-6 on  Thursday and period 7 on Friday.  Students take two exams per day, and preceding each exam is a preparation period with their teachers.

If you are a professional learning community as we are, does your exam week look different then for students and staff within this schedule?

Yes.  For our students who have tiered privileges and incentives based on their grade level and their earned letter grades, only junior and seniors who have A's, B's and C's cumulatively for their first semester have earned the privilege of coming and going during exam week.  All juniors and seniors who have a D or F cumulatively are required to attend exam week in its entirety.  When they are not taking an exam the students report to the cafeteria where content lab teachers have duties based on the teacher exam schedule. Students are required to choose a subject area, most likely the area of their D and F, and teachers provide targeted academic help and support.

Freshmen and sophomores have not yet established a successful history of exam success, and they are also required to attend exam week in its entirety.  These students are also able to receive academic support from content area teachers when they are not scheduled for an exam.

What about the impact on staff?  Staff members value requiring students to receive extra time and support for learning during exam week and they turn in these students' names to our Attendance Office so that the students required to be here stay.  They also inform the students of who has lost the privilege of coming and going.

What else is different during exam week for us?  All exams are common exams except those singletons, and since our district has three high schools, some of the exams are district-common and some are building-common.

What does your analysis for your exam data tell you?  We carefully track the percentage of students who receive D's and F's on exams, as we do at Interim and Quarterly.  We have found that our quarterly grades are historically higher than exam grades and looked at various reasons.

When we engaged our students in these discussions, we found that even on same-subject teams that gave common exams were engaging in different exam preparation strategies.  In other words, some students all in English I or Biology, for example, were getting different review practices depending on their teachers.  We also examined post-exam practices, and found that teachers who developed common exams were also employing very different follow-up strategies with our students.  While some teachers utilized exams as formative for the second semester, some barely followed up at all with students on their performance.

In addition, we also looking this year at how each same-subject team is utilizing the class period prior to each exam, as we believe the teacher and student usage of this time also affects our exam data. We are continuing to work every day to not only improve our common assessments, but also to improve our exam preparation and follow-up, so that every student has an opportunity to do his/her best on assessments every day, and during exam week.