By Sydney Fitzsimmons, Allen Gelfond, Mariel Gousious, Mia Miller, Jonah Ruddock, and Sophia Wang
It is safe to say that the transition to online learning was a difficult undertaking for both students and teachers. “I miss my comfy chairs and nooks in which to read. I miss the homey feel of the classroom. And I miss the energy a full class of students talking and laughing brings,” English teacher Mrs. Schoeppich told us. Over the last year, everyone in the East community has been feeling the pressure. With the already full-time job of teaching in-person classes, suddenly teaching online was just as necessary. And with all this happening simultaneously, there is much room for error. Different teachers across the school’s various departments have employed an assortment of new strategies to assess if students are genuinely learning, while trying to minimize both cheating and technological hurdles. Students have had to adjust their studying habits while enormously increased screen-time puts their dedication to the test. We surveyed a group of seventy seven people to see how the pandemic has changed assessments from the student and teacher perspective.
Teaching changes and adaptations
Assessments have taken many shapes this year. Some teachers, like Mrs. Kantz, are administering them the same way as usual. “I am using the same material as I have in the past. I have changed some to make it more user or tech friendly, or if I find something I like better (which I would do anyway) but the content and skill practice has remained exactly the same,” she told us. “I am less concerned about the amount of content learned and more concerned about skill acquisition– especially when it comes to writing– as the state and AP exams test skill over knowledge.”
Others, like Mr. Harrison in the science department, have devised entirely new ways of testing, such as oral exams. “I tried some different tests this year, different techniques of testing, I actually tried to do what I referred to as ‘elevator talks’ which are an oral exam where I ask them topics that I’ve already given to them and I choose x topics from there, and ask them to tell me everything they know about it.”
It has been noticed that teachers are being more lenient in terms of preparation for tests. Sophomore Lewis Shaevel noted that, “It seems… that my teachers are giving the class more review days for the test than in previous years. These days are great to make sure I really understand all the material that is going to be asked on the test.” Other students reported that they are being allowed to use notes during assessments. These changes have not always been easy from the teacher side of things. Mrs Schoeppich told us, “I have had to adapt so many things this year, and it feels like everything takes longer… Engagement has been what I most struggle with. I love to do group activities and discussions, and it’s simply not possible during this time. I feel like a lot of what makes me love teaching and the creativity I like to bring has been a bit muffled.”
Cheating and Cheating Mitigations Strategies
One of the biggest drawbacks of virtual learning is the ease with which students can cheat on assessments. There is no foolproof way teachers can prevent their kids from accessing online resources, and it has become a great concern. 80% of teachers responded to our form that they were more worried about cheating this year than in former years, and 79% of students agreed with them. Mr. Harrison’s testimony showed how a lot of testing now operates on the honor system and a sense of ethical standards rather than any concrete consequences: “It’s nigh impossible to ensure fairness right now. One thing I try to really stress with students is the notion of ownership over the knowledge, over the learning. That if you cheat or if you just try to memorize and then spit it back out you’re effectively renting the information without owning it.” Senior Joshua Gunawardene weighed in with, “Cheating has become the norm for many and finding motivation to even work has become a struggle. Students are no longer ‘learning’, they are just memorizing information and not understanding it, and testing is now to see how much and well you can memorize.” This may be why 60% of student participants responded to our form saying the pandemic has negatively affected their performance on tests. Mrs. Schoeppich reported that she has stopped giving certain assessments, like vocabulary quizzes, altogether because she “could not figure out how to make them exercises in learning rather than cheating.”
Preparedness and Actual Skill Development Learning
Despite the best efforts of teachers, results show that the pandemic has stunted the skill development of students. 78% of our student data pool responded that they felt less prepared for end of year exams than in past years, and their attitude toward assessments has been overwhelmingly negative. “As for end-of-year exams,” said freshman Elizabeth Buckingham, “I have never felt so underprepared because this entire year’s goal was to just make it till the end of the year, not as much about remembering all the material. Now that it’s nearing the end, I’m realizing how little I’ve remembered.” Sophomore Quinn Wilks added, “It is extremely difficult to keep a testing environment fair or even comfortable; I haven’t taken a test without feeling that the material is slightly less taught than in years prior. This is more present in some classes, especially honors, because it is so hard to retain the information, let alone be expected to be tested on it.” Some, like sophomore Thomas Jordanov, have simply lost motivation.
(Assessment frequency / difficulty. Comparison between student and teacher perspectives)
Comparing student and teacher perspectives brings some interesting discrepancies to light. 100% of teachers replied that their tests were the same difficulty or less difficult than past years, with 60% saying they were less difficult, while 78% of students replied that tests were the same difficulty or harder than past years, with 39% saying they were more difficult. 70% of teachers responded to our form saying that they have been testing students less this year in comparison to previous years, while 30% replied that the frequency of their testing has not changed; compare this to the student form, in which 50% of participants said they were being tested the same amount as past years, with 25% saying they were tested more. English teacher Mrs. Scheoppich told us, “I am relatively confident my students are learning as much,” while Mr. Harrison explained, “Am I confident that my students are learning as much? Perhaps. As well? Absolutely not, certainly not.” An anonymous participant’s view of things was drastically different: “I think all throughout this year I have never truly felt ready for a test. It seems to creep up on me, and then I get really stressed, stay up really late to study, and then I can never focus the next day in class. It feels like a never ending cycle, because each class has different schedules, so there are overlapping tests and sometimes tests the day after I just took one. There’s this feeling that I will never be able to catch up with school and how I used to be before the pandemic, when I was super on top of things and felt ready for almost all of the tests I took.”
This year’s challenges have brought new perspectives to both the student body and faculty. With the responsibility of both virtual and physical education, teachers have been more pressed than ever to try to connect with growingly distant students. The difficulty of trying to foster teacher-student connections mixed with the academic shift of new teaching techniques, increased use of technology, and only 4 days of classroom education has made everyone feel a little disconnected. Teachers have been working hard to ensure academic honesty as well as student success. By this time in April, it is evident that, despite the fact that teachers are trying their best to make changes, many students have been unable to fully adjust to online learning. With the future still uncertain, the only thing we can depend on is the adaptability of the Williamsville East community and our ability to forge on despite what obstacles may lie ahead.