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Finals Exemptions Fail the College Readiness Test

June 12, 2008

Should high school students get to skip finals? Or is learning how tosuccessfully study for a final exam a critical part of college readiness?

Our Coppell High School students can skip final exams in the spring in their core subjects if they (a) pass their TAKS tests, (b) have an 85 in the class, and (c) haven’t missed too many days of school. In fact, if they get commended on the TAKS, they can skip all their exams, including their electives. (Seniors can skip fall semester finals too.)

The benefits of finals exemptions for the school district are obvious.

  1. Kids are motivated to do well on TAKS, which makes the school district look good.
  2. Higher attendance rates drive higher revenues for the school district, because the state pays based upon attendance. (In fairness, higher attendance should also drive more learning – however, sick kids who don’t want to lose their finals exemptions come to school where they spread germs and sick kids don’t learn much.)
  3. Teacher workloads decrease if fewer kids take exams.
  4. The policy ensures that most of the students in the classroom the last few days of the year are those who are desperate about passing the class, rather than including those who are confident and therefore not focused, so teachers can concentrate on helping those who need review.

Under our current grading system, where the final exam only accounts for 1/7 of the semester grade, astute students would question why they should take finals. After all, a student with an 85 in a class would have to score a 96 or higher on the final exam to raise his GPA. Conversely, that student could skate through with a 75 on the final exam and not hurt his GPA. Probably many kids would blow off studying if they realized that fact.

For the child who is not a good test taker, this is a forgiving system. And in the working world, we don’t take tests.

But when these same students go off to college, they will encounter classes where the entire semester only has 3 grades, including a comprehensive semester final.

When are they going to learn how to review for a final exam? How many will fail college courses because we haven’t prepared them? (Nationwide, over 30% of freshmen drop out of college.)

Should we limit these exemptions from finals? Should final exams count for more than 1/7th of a semester grade so students will have an incentive to take finals? Is there a better way to motivate regular attendance and trying hard on TAKS? What do you think?

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