As it gets closer to the end of the year, I start to get more questions concerning final exams. Am I for or against them; what should they consist of; should there be exemptions; etc.? The next few posts will address some of those questions and the answers I usually give.
Let’s tackle the big question first, “What do I think about allowing students to earn exemptions from finals?” Overall, I think the practice is counter-productive and should not occur.
Exemptions are generally granted for two reasons, either to encourage students to attend class and/or to do all of their work to maintain a high grade. Many teachers swear that the incentive works in both cases.
However, in spite of the bump to attendance and grades that exemptions may provide, they are bad practice. The purpose of assessments is to provide objective instructional data to staff. Final exams provide this data for an entire course. But if significant numbers of students are exempted from the exam, the data provided is suspect at best. If the staff isn’t using final exam data for instructional purposes, then why are they being administered?
So the question becomes, will we give a final exam or not. If the data isn’t being used, don’t give one. If the data is being used, make sure that the data set represents the entire class. Then find other ways to encourage students to come to class and turn in their work.