By Terry Dean
An "A" average, good attendance and no final exam.
That's not usually how it has worked over the years for graduating high school seniors. But other schools are exploring, or have implemented, exempting seniors from taking final exams if they're expected to pass their classes anyway.
Oak Park and River Forest High School's administration has discussed that option in years past but never moved in that direction. And there are no plans in the foreseeable future to start exempting seniors, according to Phil Prale, OPRF's assistant superintendent for curriculum and instruction. The OPRF Student Council, however, is asking the school to consider the change. The issue was brought up at last month's District 200 Board of Education meeting by the council's student board rep.
Some students at the high school, including seniors and juniors, would like to see an exemption given, according the council.
Prale said different schools have certain criteria for exempting seniors. He said it's a topic that has come up at OPRF before but noted there are a lot of moving parts to it. Generally, exemption criteria includes a student maintaining an "A" average at the time of the exam. Good attendance is typically necessary as well. Another could be if the student did well on the Prairie State Achievement Exam, the annual standardized test given to high school juniors in the state.
"We haven't gone there at the high school. There's a lot to consider in how you manage it," Prale said. "But it's an interesting question and as a concept, I wouldn't say it's farfetched."
But there would be a lengthy process before it was ever implemented at OPRF, Prale said.
Students and parents would need to be surveyed about it. An internal discussion with administration, including division chairs, would need to take place. Prale noted that one goal is to give students incentives to improve academically. After that discussion, an analysis on what impact this might have on students would occur.
Prale said he was unaware that the student council was thinking about this until it was brought up at the school board meeting. A student council rep, historically, has a seat at the board table and reports on the council's activities. D200 board members mostly had questions about how exempting students would work.
One question was whether seniors should be exempted at all. Another position is that taking exams is actually good for students. Prale acknowledged the latter but noted that students are well-practiced in taking exams prior to their senior year. As for colleges, exempting seniors wouldn't make a difference to them, Prale explained.
"Exams don't come up, and they don't show up, on transcripts. The semester grade does," he said.
Exempting seniors with good grades from finals is not something the board would vote on, Prale said, adding that the board would be fully engaged, however, in any discussions.
A 'common final exam' model
While the exemption question is not yet on the table, Prale said the school is looking at how exams are given by classroom teachers in various subjects.
It's not unusual, he noted, to have two instructors teaching the same subject but give entirely different final exams. Prale said the school is examining that model. In some cases, teachers don't give exams, preferring a final classroom project instead. In math and science classes, a "common final exam" is given by faculty teaching the same subject.
"It's really looking at the role of finals and what are we trying to accomplish with our students. What are the goals of the course? What are the learning targets and what are the outcomes of the course?" Prale said.