By Tina Comeau
It’s been decided that exams will still go ahead at the Yarmouth high school at the end of this month, but students will be given the option of whether they choose to write them.
If they choose to write the exam and their mark goes down because of it, the exam mark will not count. But if they choose to write the exam and it improves their course grade, than the higher mark is the one that will count, says principal Don Berry.
If they don't want to write the exam due to what has been transpiring at the school, because they've missed school or because they are satisfied with the term mark they have now, than that's a choice available to them too, Berry said.
Exams are scheduled to get underway on Jan. 28. However, due to a lingering air quality issue at the school that has resulted in absenteeism by teachers and students, Yarmouth Consolidated Memorial High School (YCMHS) was given some latitude by the Tri-County Regional School Board to decide how to handle the upcoming exams.
“During conversations with the administration of YCMHS, the issue of exams became an issue of concern and both school and board staff were involved in the resolution of the issue,” explains Trevor Cunningham, the school board’s director of programs and student services.
He raised the issue at the school board’s Jan. 8 meeting, where a motion was approved allowing the board and the high school to consult on exam options.
The options ranged from leaving things as they were, to looking at lowering the percentage of a student’s mark that the exams count for, to cancelling exams outright.
With exams around the corner, concern has been raised about the amount of school being missed by some students and teachers. Also, material that normally would be reviewed by the classroom teacher in many cases is being handled by substitute teachers. For some students it is creating anxiety.
Berry says the school considered all of the scenarios available to it. Asked if that included cancelling exams outright, he said it was felt that overall this option wouldn’t best serve the students.
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“I thought about it but by eliminating the exam that means kids that are already at the failing grade . . . don’t have a chance at an exam, which possibly they could study their lights out on and do really well. So doing away with it would cheat them,” he said.
“I weighed the pros and cons, what’s in the best interests of the children, and also I looked at the teachers and the amount of work that they do,” he added. In lieu of an exam, kids who needed the option of improving their grade could have had a major research project assigned to them, said Berry, but if you have many students wanting the chance to improve their grade it was just as easy to go ahead with the exam.
Students applying for university or college programs and/or scholarships may also want the opportunity to write the exam to see if it improves their mark.
Meanwhile, students who decide not to write a particular exam (or more than one exam) won’t be required to explain in writing that they’re not doing the exam.
“I don’t think we need that because the board gave us leeway all the way down to no exam,” Berry says. “We'll do the attendance of who shows up to write the exams. There are going to be keeners who are going to write anyway because they want to see if they can improve their mark, but it sure as the dickens won’t be held against them if they do poor.”
As for some students who may just use what is happening at the school as a get-out-of-exams free card, Berry said the school has left the door open to all students to decide what they’ll do. They may choose not to write the exam, he says, or they may say ‘I’m going to ace this exam and jack my mark up.’
Berry notes that not all courses have mid-term exams scheduled. For some courses the exam or assessment only comes at the end of the school year. The exam schedule posted on the school’s website lists around 90 course exams during the Jan. 28-31 exam period.
There are no provincial exams this year. However, there are a couple of regionals ones.