When I finished my 12th year as principal of my high school, I was again fed up with final exams. High stress with little academic bang — except the high ticket value — meager follow-up discussion, no chance for improvement, Scantron-a-palooza, scaled essays. Finals were more a test of futility than academics.
Why? Except that’s the way high school’s have always done it. Some claim they teach responsibility and accountability. They won’t be prepared for college.
So I began this past year with a September meeting with my leadership team. I asked if someone can find me data of any college that regularly has classes that meet every day from September through June with one high stakes test at the end that may be worth anywhere between 10 and 20 percent of the final grade, but there may be some opt-out conditions if your grade is high enough.
No one could. So I cancelled final exams this year.
We already had in place four profound common quarterly assessments in all departments for the year with teachers deciding the testing schedule. These exams were factored in to term grades. They were part of the last week of each term.
No half days. No cessation of teaching and learning.
Our school calendar already had half days at the end of school K-12 to come to closure on grades for the year. People asked me throughout the year what was I going to do in lieu of the traditional final exam period.
This afternoon I rolled out to my faculty at our annual June gathering and ice cream social two important thoughts: the all-school book title for Year #5 of our interdisciplinary September event and what we would do for the last days of school.
Joseph Case High School will replace final exams with Passion Days.
As a school that began the year by prioritizing teacher-student relationships, I have thrown down the gauntlet to end the year with relationship-building by having teachers share their passions.
During the last two half-days of school, students will have an opportunity to select two teacher-led events that will complement their formal high school education.
A teacher may share an activity that isn’t traditionally connected with school, lead a service project in the community, or help make something all in the spirit of collaboration.
My teachers have until 8 a.m. on Friday to submit some Passion ideas so that I can then shape the day with the help of my awesome assistant principal. We hope to have between 35-40 projects that will include 10-15 students each session. Some will be individually led, others may involve two teachers. One Passion projects may even take two consecutive days with the same cohort in some cases.
My teachers are deep in reflection at present, marinating ideas to bring to the digital table.
I officially roll out the program to students on Monday, with reinforcement in advisory on Tuesday and selection on Wednesday.
Educators at Joseph Case High School in Swansea, Mass., are taking big risks at the end of this school year to help our student. Like the title character of our school-wide title A Man Called Ove, we are all looking for a sense of purpose. By risk-taking and modeling our passions, aren’t we helping children gain a sense of theirs?
Our Passion Days will be epic: I hope more for an epic success than the opposite. I’ll keep you updated. Proposals due Friday.