The offer from Lansing High School to allow some students to opt out of finals has had mixed results.
But during a meeting Monday, a group of teachers that helped develop and evaluate the program urged the Lansing School Board to be patient.
The exemption was developed and implemented this year as a way to incentivize students to meet certain benchmarks in attendance, discipline and grades, part of the school’s multi-tiered system of support for behavior. Any student who had no grade below C in any class, missed fewer than 14 class hours of school and had no major disciplinary referrals during that semester was eligible.
LHS Counselor Kristie Wessel said 403 out of 865 LHS students met the criteria for the exemption in the fall 2012 semester. Of those, 133 students reportedly chose to take one or more finals anyway as an opportunity to raise their class grade, though they were given a “safety net” option under which the score would not count against them.
However, LHS math teacher Christina Hoverson said the data gathered after the first semester, which in addition to those behavioral indicators also included surveys of students and teachers, painted a mixed picture of the pilot program.
“From 2011 to 2012, we saw nearly a 20 percent jump in attendance,” she said, meaning a greater number of students missed fewer than 14 classroom hours. “We’re pretty happy with that.”
However, the percentage of students getting a grade of D or F in at least one class rose over the same time, from 30 to 34 percent, and the percentage who received major discipline referrals rose almost 27 percent.
Comments from both teachers and students mentioned the attendance requirements as potentially concerning if a student missed class for a funeral or came to school sick to get the finals exemption. Jeff DaMetz, a science teacher at LHS, said the school was amending the policy, allowing for a future process during which a faculty committee will review appeals on a case-by-case basis. However, the comments and surveys generally showed that students and teachers approved of the finals exemption in concept.
“We still need to make adjustments and we know that,” he said.
DaMetz, who was also on the steering committee for the effort, said there were caveats for the grade and discipline data — the board did approve an overhaul of the advanced placement and honors offerings at the school this year and Kansas’ new common core curriculum is in the process of being implemented as well. And changes are already taking place in the way that teachers handle disciplinary actions.
Page 2 of 2 - “There are changes that we have to look at, so as we look at the data it seems to be best that we compare fall 2012 with fall of 2013,” he said.
However, with the early data, Wessel said the program if nothing else did help LHS administration better zone in on students who needed the most help.
“By really putting a plan in place like this, we got rid of those kids didn’t really have a reason to be gone or those kind of things and so we removed those kids from those initial data that we looked at a year ago and now we’re really getting deeper into the kids that really do have an attendance issue or a discipline issue and those are affecting their grades,” she said.