Integrity of Physics I final compromised

A practice open response question hangs in the science hallway. Photo by Kendall McGowan.

This year’s Physics I final exam will not be counted towards students’ grades, as some students had already seen the questions at the time they took the test. The entirety of the test was taken from the 2014 MCAS, which is available online. Some freshmen were able to find it and used it as practice to study before the final.

“Kids have never found it to study with ever before,” Science Curriculum Coordinator Ed Wiser said. “That was our mistake, thinking that because we’ve never seen the kids do that before, let’s do it this way.”

According to freshman Olivia Rieur, it was not very hard for students to make the connection between the MCAS questions they had been using to study and those on their final exam.

“What happened was some people had looked up extra practice questions because they wanted extra practice for finals, and then they ended up coming across those [on the final] and realizing it,” she said. “It just kind of got spread around the grade.”

Rieur also said that her physics teacher encouraged her class to use old MCAS exams to study.

The motivation for physics teachers to use a previous MCAS exam as the academic final exam stemmed from their desire to prepare the students for the 2015 physics MCAS exam, which they took shortly after the final, according to Wiser.

However, he said that although teachers want to avoid teaching to the test, the physics MCAS is a graduation requirement, and they feel responsible for preparing students for it.

“We want to prepare them as much as we can for both exams,” he said.

According to Wiser, there is no evidence that students shared answers with each other, only that they were familiar with the questions.

“We looked at all of the responses to try to find patterns, and we couldn’t find any,” Wiser said. “That was comforting.”

An email sent to parents of students who took the physics final exam said students could opt to take an additional final exam, which would only be counted if it raised their grade. A Canvas announcement containing the same message was also sent out to all students who took the exam.

Kendall McGowan and Rosa Stern Pait can be contacted at [email protected]