Making Education Relevant


After approximately a year of discussion pertaining to the effectiveness of SIS’ midterm exams,
the leadership team made the decision to replace these two-hour tests with skills-based
assessments. Due to the fact that some of these assessments in past years have entailed
memorization of details, the high school came to the conclusion that changing the inherent
purpose and style of these exams will ultimately benefit the students in both the short and long
“I am definitely happy that the exams are going to be less specific because I always had a hard
time memorizing information from the first few units of the semester for the single test at the
very end of [the semester],” Jaeho Hwang (10) said. “In spite of the long hours I spent preparing
for these tests, my performance has never done anything positive to either my grades or my self-
esteem. All in all, I hope these changes turn out to be for the better.”
According to James Gerhard, high school Principal, the emphasis of these tests is on “transfer
skills,” the skills students will be able to take with them and apply even after their completion of
a given course. At the beginning of each school year, each class has in its curriculum certain
transfer goals, which delineate the one or more skills the teachers will expect their students to
master. Over the course of the year, consistent feedback is given regarding fulfillment of the
course’s expectations through various activities, assignments, and tests. Starting from this year,
the midterm exams will no longer be as strenuous; as the leadership team puts it, these
assessments will exist simply to quantitatively measure one’s capabilities and the courses’
success a few months into the year. Using this information, the teachers will be able to design the
following semester’s curriculum according to the students’ overall weaknesses in utilizing these
transfer skills, thus improving the quality of the course as a whole.
“We are ultimately making education at SIS relevant through such a change,” said Gray Macklin,
high school Vice Principal. “Of course, the information we teach here is always relevant, but it is
about making this relevance even more apparent, especially to the students. For example, we
made sure to emphasize to all teachers that there should be no gate-way content, or content that
is crucial to being able to demonstrate a specific skill. At the end of the day, the students will be
able to decide for themselves what content they want to apply and how to apply it.”
Aside from bolstering the quality of education through this type of summative assessment, there
is another, arguably more important advantage: it is less mentally taxing. High school students
tend to spend hours creating study guides and reciting facts to themselves, especially when it
comes to the more information-heavy subjects, such as history or chemistry. Additionally, there
will be more instructional time for AP courses. Although AP assessments at the end of the first
semester are exempt from such a change due to the nature of the AP test itself, every other course at SIS will change, potentially making these college-level courses more manageable for
students struggling to study for multiple exams at once.
“We hope every student view this new assessment in the same light the administration does—as
a positive change for all,” Dr. Gerhard said. “Our ultimate goal is to make high school
memorable and meaningful, and such a decision is a part of a continuing pattern of changes to
enrich the student experience.”