Dear Penny Kittle*,

*Please know, while Penny Kittle is the person this letter is directed to, we are asking the questions to everyone on the interwebs.

Penny (in my mind we are on a first name basis),

We are 100% committed to Rigorous Independent Reading.

We have collaborated with Mamaroneck High School – we have presented at NCTE about it – we have ever expanding classroom libraries – we have amazing readers – we have tons and tons of happy moments in our classroom – check us out on Twitter where we share the work of our students (@THSReadRev and #ireadths).

Unfortunately this isn’t the purpose of this “directed” open letter.

We need your help. Our English Department is comprised of 20+ educators that educate 2,100+ students. Our merry band of 3 lone nuts who have incorporated RIR into our classrooms has grown to 9. In the long term, we need to sit down as a department and have some tough discussions.

In the short term, though, I was wondering if you could give us some insight and professional advice regarding Mid-Terms and Finals. At THS we have formal Mid-Terms and Finals. These exams are 1 hour 50 minutes long. We must administer an assessment that is completed during that period and RIR isn’t in all classes.

Yesterday we met as a Department to discuss the state of the assessments. Each year we tweak them and we try to unify the exam so every class takes the same exam.

We have debated a great deal as a department as to whether a Mid-Term and Final is a good thing for students. We tend to always fall into the trap that we can’t fix it this year, so let’s make do with what is required of us. So, we try to sculpt an assessment that allows students to write in a manner that is critical, comprehensive, and passionate. This is no easy task.

So we have some road blocks and here we are in December preparing to administer exams again…

In the end, we are looking for some guidance from anyone out there. We want to hear about what your districts do and what your beliefs and rationales are with regard to exams. The information you provide (if you decide to) will be used in dialogue and as a tool for growth.

That said, if you could answer the following:

  1. What are your thoughts on Mid-Terms and Finals and what should be on them?
  2. If forced to administer an exam that had to be completed in 2 hour time slot, what would your exam look like?
  3. What do you think major assessments, like an exam should measure?
  4. Dream world – what would your ideal semester ending assignment look like?

If you decide to answer these questions please send your responses to us at:

Thank you for your time,

Jim McCaffrey and the THS Reading (R)evolution

AGAIN to REITERATE – While this post is directed at Penny Kittle we would love to hear what other districts do as semester ending assessments (exam or portfolio work). The more information we have the more likely we can start having more productive conversations!


One thought on “Dear Penny Kittle*,

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