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City schools need district-wide policy on exam exemptions

By Staff
June 9, 2002
Today, we consider the deeper meaning of exempting barely-passing junior high school students from final exams or guaranteeing failing students a minimum grade on a test that should be a measure of what they have learned. Four articulate letters to the editor on page A9 are representative of the strong sentiments expressed during the past few days on the exam exemption policy put in place last month at Kate Griffin Junior High.
Students with at least a passing grade average in any class 70 could be exempted from the final exam in that class. Students with a failing grade were required to take exams, but could make no less than a 70. Imagine taking a test with 100 questions, getting five correct and still making a 70. The math does not compute and parents who want their children to get the best possible education in this city's public schools should be up in arms about it.
The rest of us, independent of the school system, are like voyeurs peeking through a window and in this case the scene is one of arcane complexity. We focus on an administrative process that is without central guidance. Meridian's public school district has no comprehensive policy on exam exemptions, leaving it up to individual principals, some of whom, in the rush to send in final grades, may may  be tempted to opt for convenience.
But education is not a convenience. Education is a necessity, absolutely the critical link in future success  not only on the job, but also in life. We hear the message every day … get a good education … learn how to learn. But who's listening? All too often, it looks as if some are learning how to work the system instead of developing a system that works.
Every resident of this city has a vested interest in the quality of public schools. Every single citizen who pays taxes to support public education has a vested interest. We are not outsiders. We are, or at least should be, aggressively engaged in a process to make things better.
Rewarding poor academic performers by exempting them from final exams is like admitting failure within a system that should be success-driven. If the system is to get better, some things need to change, but we hope a weakened curriculum is not one of them.
The board of trustees of Meridian public schools should move immediately to adopt a single, comprehensive, district-wide policy on whether to exempt junior high and high school students from exams and, if so, under what conditions. If they choose to exempt, the policy should focus on high academic achievement, perhaps with a perfect or near-perfect attendance component. It should be clearly communicated to all administrators, faculty, students and parents before the beginning of the next school year.
Clearly, this is no time for mediocrity in public education.