Students to participate in culminating activities instead
Montgomery County Public Schools (MCPS) Superintendent Jerry Weast revealed to the school board in a memo dated Dec. 21 that students in Advanced Placement (AP) classes who plan to take the corresponding AP exam may skip the county final exam for that class. The decision also applies to students enrolled in other college-preparatory programs such as International Baccalaureate (IB) and Cambridge (CIE), and will take effect during the second semester, when students take standardized exams for those courses.
In place of the final, students will complete a "culminating activity," an in-depth project that will carry the same 25 percent weight in the students' semester grade. However, students who do not take the AP/IB/CIE exam are required to take the final exam and participate in the culminating activity. The activity will factor into their fourth-quarter grade and the final exam will continue to count for 25 percent of the semester grade, according to Weast's memo.
Students are expected to finish the culminating activity during class time; however, if a teacher deems it necessary, students may finish the activity during exam week. Activities will be prepared by individual schools, according to Ben Moskowitz, Student Member of the Board (SMOB).
The rule also allows AP U.S. Government students, previously required to take two exams for the subject - the final and High School Assessment (HSA) in addition to the optional AP – to substitute the AP exam for the HSA as well, if they are confident they will pass with a score of three or higher. Likewise, if a student fails the HSA but passes the AP exam, they will meet the graduation requirement, according to Moskowitz.
Students enrolled in Magnet classes in preparation for AP exams will still be required to take finals exams in those subjects. "Our courses aren't AP courses," said magnet math teacher Nannette Dyas.
Weast wrote that the decision was made based on the "recommendation of the multi-stakeholder work group and feedback from the Montgomery County Council of Parent Teacher Associations, students, Councils on Learning and Teaching and high school principals." This work group was created during the summer, in response to a request by board member and former president Patricia O'Neill.
Moskowitz, who raised the issue of over-testing in his campaign for SMOB, noted that most board members also felt that the abundance of required exams was a problem in Montgomery County. "It's something that the entire Board is concerned about, which is one of the main reasons why Pat O'Neill and I were pushing so hard to get this concern addressed," he said.
Aside from stress, students told Moskowitz they were subjected to continuous test preparation during the final weeks of school in their advanced classes. "With more and more focus on tests, review and preparation, we lose out on time for actual, high-quality instruction in the classroom," he said. "Hopefully, this change will help to address these issues."
Moskowitz also feels that the new rule will provide an incentive for students to take more advanced courses. "It might encourage some people to enroll in more AP classes and take the AP exam for college credit," Moskowitz said. "The school system is also struggling with the disparity in who has access to honors, advanced-level, and AP classes."
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