I understand the practice of exemptions from midterms and finals that has been carried out at Leavitt for the last few years is a pretty popular “right” for students. I can even see how in some cases the chance at not having to take the final in a class would serve as motivation to students. I just don’t agree that exemptions are better for students and the school as a whole.

My idea of learning is that students retain a high level of understanding over time and can demonstrate that understanding in a new situation like an assessment (test, project, presentation, etc.). This is where the concept of exemptions contradicts learning. If a student has done “A” work in a course, he or she has mastered the material and should be able show that they know their stuff. There should be no problem. If they cannot, then what value does the “A” in the course have if the student can’t or doesn’t show what they know?

We can all agree that college preparedness is an important responsibility of high schools. I would challenge you to find someone currently in college and ask them how being exempt from a mid-term or final in high school has helped them in any way in college. As a personal example, I was shocked when I found out that in my Economics class as a freshman, I would have two exams and the final to determine my grade for the semester. From September to December I only had three grades to show what I knew. There were no homework grades, no participation, no test corrections, no make up work, just three grades representing hundreds of pages of reading and hours of class time. I soon learned that all of my classes were like this. Ask your teachers now I am sure they will have had a similar experience. How will exemptions prepare students for this experience?

Finally I will offer less of an academic but more of a practical reason why exemptions run contrary to student learning. Usually what occurs during the week before midterms and finals is some type of review for the upcoming assessment. A strange chain reaction often occurs during that review period. The attendance secretary and assistant principals are bombarded with parent phone calls for absences and dismissals. The rationale is that since the student is exempt from the test they don’t have to attend the review so in essence they are exempt from a whole week of classes too! In comparison to most of the world’s industrialized nations, American students are already in school the least amount of time, again it seems contradictory to reward achievement with less time to learn.

I made a decision to phase out exemptions rather than just require all juniors and seniors to take midterms and final exams. My thinking was that since seniors had already had exemptions last year, it would be viewed as taking away a privilege already enjoyed. Since juniors had not yet been exempt, that would be the wisest place to begin. With that being said, I agree with Mr. Nash’s point that it would benefit exempt seniors to take midterms and finals and I certainly encourage them to take that opportunity.

I do believe there is a need to better recognize high achievement, and I am willing to hear other proposals about how we do that as a school, I just don’t think exemptions are the way to reflect that recognition.

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