Sullivan schools final exam exemptions may end in 2018-19

BLOUNTVILLE — The days of being exempted from comprehensive final exams in Sullivan County high schools are about to end, school system officials say.

But the practice is poised to continue for one more school year.

After a discussion of the matter at the county Board of Education’s work session last week, Director of Schools Evelyn Rafalowski told the board she planned at the July 10 BOE meeting to recommend approval of the proposed Students Rights & Responsibilities Handbook as recommended by a committee of teachers and principals for 2017-18. The recommendations include keeping the final exam exemption options of having an overall B-plus grade point average or no more than two absences per semester, for up to two courses.

After that, she said, the message is simply no more final exam exemptions.

During 2016-17, Rafalowski said that students exempted from at least one semester exam numbered 639 at Central High, 616 at East, 285 at North and 695 at South.

“I think it’s good to give a year’s notice,” Rafalowski said. “In 2018-19, it’s gone.” She also said the delay would give the board time to review and discuss the mandated weight for final exams on a student’s grade.

Rafalowski said Kingsport, Bristol, Tenn., and Johnson City schools have ended such exemptions but Hawkins County still has them.

Board member Randall Jones said the exemptions date back to the 1990s and the attendance exemption was seen as a means to get to the 95 percent or better attendance rate sought by Tennessee.

The board questioned the exemptions at the May work session before first reading of the policy at the June meeting.

Member Mark Ireson was then and remained Thursday the most outspoken critic of the practice, which he said leaves students unprepared to take comprehensive final exams in college. Ireson said he knows this because his older daughter, a 4.0 student at Sullivan South, went to college but soon left in frustration with final exams. He said she later went back to college.

Ireson said the school system is in a sorry state “if all we’re worried about is getting the students to school.” He said attendance should be a priority of parents if it becomes an issue, while the school system’s job is to prepare students for college and/or a career.

“They’re not prepared because we’re not making them take a test,” Ireson said. “I’m sorry, guys. We need to prepare our kids. Prepared means you’re tested on the work.”

Member Jerry Greene said, “We do have kids whose parents don’t care if students go or not.”

Board Chairman Michael Hughes said another issue is that during the winter outbreak of flu and other illnesses, students who shouldn’t have been in school came to keep up their attendance but caused overall attendance to dip when other students caught the flu or illness.

Jones said that some systems allow the end-of-course test, the high school version of a TCAP or Tennessee Comprehensive Assessment Program exam, to count as the final exam.

Rafalowski said the issue there is two straight years of Tennessee not providing those results in a timely manner. They were supposed to count as 10 percent of student grades this school year and are slated to count 15 percent next school year.

In Sullivan and Kingsport, they counted nothing the past two years because the results did not arrive within five days of the end of school. Rafalowski said even at the end of June, the state had released only the raw “quick” scores for grades 9-12 and nothing for grades 3-8.

“Every (Sullivan) student out there knows they haven’t counted one single time,” Ireson said.