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St. Louis Magazine: Should finals only count if they raise a student's grade? These school districts adopted the policy after recent snow days

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By Samantha Stevenson

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After two snow days resulted in students across the region either missing a final exam or not having enough time to study for final exams, many local school districts have decided that the scores students get on those exams will only count if it positively changes their grade. For many districts, it's the first time a policy like this has been adopted.

St. Louis County districts including University City and Hazelwood decided this for their final exams. "Students will have the opportunity to raise their grades by performing well on their exams," the district's director of communications and public relations Kimberly McKenzie says. "But the final exam grades will not adversely impact any of the individual semester grades." 

Lindbergh school district had a final scheduled for Tuesday, which students can take after school if they choose to, for a positive toward their grade. However, the remaining six finals are scheduled to impact grades as planned. 

On Wednesday, superintendents of St. Louis Public Schools emailed their high school principals that "the timing of school closings due to inclement weather last Monday and Tuesday meant teachers and students were shorted valuable class time needed to prepare for final exams... In fairness to our students and with valuable input from our principals, our decision is to encourage SLPS teachers to only use final exams to impact grades positively and not negatively."

St. Charles County school districts including Francis Howell (who posted the news to their Facebook and received mixed reactions), Wentzville, and Fort Zumwalt, decided that with the lack of time to prepare, the grade on the exams will only be used if they "raise a student's grade."

"It was based on the very unique situation that we had both Monday and Tuesday off school. I can't speak for other school districts, but I would the case in ours, and I believe in many, was that Monday and Tuesday were not actually final exam days, but would have been set aside for student review," says Nathan Hoven, deputy superintendent of the Francis Howell School District. "Two issues that we know came up for some students was that, for one, if they took their materials home to work on a review, they would have had to plan ahead to take them home on Friday, meaning they would have had to realize that we could be off school Monday and Tuesday." The other, Hoven says, was that during those missed days the students would have had access to their teachers to ask any questions in preparation for the exams. 

Beyond St. Charles, Warren County and Lincoln County R-III School District also decided to give their students the courtesy. At Lincoln County's schools, current practice is that finals weigh 20 percent on a student's final grade. "Our students are counting on that," says Audrey Henebry, communication specialist for the district. "They know what their grades are down to the percentage point and they know what they need to get on the final, and they're going into those finals prepared to work toward that."

The reaction from parents has been mixed. "We have heard some concerns from parents saying 'How is this prepping kids for the real world?'" says Mary LaPak, Wentzville school district's chief communications officer. But, she says, "so much work goes in throughout the semester to prepare kids, and we never want a final to be the one, or any assessment to be the one, indicator as to how students have learned and grown." 

U. City school district's director of community relations, media, and development Nancy Cambria says they've received thank-yous from parents. "One woman said that her son was super stressed out about the fact that he was going to have to go back and A.) either take them on a really compacted schedule or B.) have to take them after the New Year," she says. 

Ultimately, across the school districts, many faculty cited mental health as a large decision factor: "We're very conscious about stress," Cambria says, noting research on students in high school that suggest students are "super stressed out and depressed, and we really wanted to take that into consideration as well."

So are they concerned students will blow off the exam? "I think some students will take it more seriously, and they'll focus on the finals where they really want to make an impact on their grades," LaPak says. 

All school districts quoted said that this is an unusual situation and a first for nearly all of them. Hoven says: "This is my first time, to my knowledge, and in my career and education that this particular type of snow situation has happened."