Excuses, excuses: exam exemptions

By Ana Faguy and Isabel Dibble

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Story updated February 27, 2015

After months of class discussions, homework, quizzes and tests, CHS students spent the beginning of the new year studying and preparing for first semester exams. Not all students, however, ended up taking exams due to exemptions.

Exam exemptions allow students who have avoidable or sensitive situations, including illness or a death in the family, to not have to take exams. This year, however, the number of exemptions have caused concern within the CHS community for what merits an exemption.

According to Principal Joan Benz, there were 48 exemptions, which is about 2 percent of our whole population.

“I have the responsibility and authority to exempt an exam,” Benz said. “The parent has to tell me the reason why the student should be exempted from exams. In many cases, it is not for all of their exams, it is for some of them. Every request for an exemption is accompanied by a doctor’s note if it was medical.”

According to Benz, there are many students who are being treated for anxiety and depression. However, those students are also required to file medical notes from their doctor.

Students and staff have been buzzing about this topic and the rules Benz has outlined. However many CHS community members feel that these rules are not being followed to the fullest extent. Junior Ruby, who asked that her real name not be used, is one example.

Ruby, facing a stressful junior year with regards to school and social life, felt the pressure to perform well in the first semester. She concluded that she could not perform to the fullest extent on exams due to the high stress she faced, and her parents emailed Dr. Benz requesting exemption.

“I got excused from exams because I had a lot going on outside of school, and I knew that if I took the exams, it would affect my grades, and I did not want that since junior year is so important,” Ruby said. “I know many [students] who were excused from exams because of stress, concussions and being sick. I believe exams are very stressful and add on to the stress of this intense year. Many people do well during the quarter and the thought of failing the exam when you worked so hard all quarter is scary. I did not have a doctor’s note, my parents contacted Dr. Benz.”

Many students find this to be a manipulation of the exam process put in place. If a student trends, meaning they go A-B or B-A for the first and second quarters, being exempt from exams could work in their favor. A student who goes B-A and is exempted will get an A for the semester, while a student who takes the exam, with a A-B for first and second quarter, would have to get an A on the exam in order to get an A.

“I do not think it is okay for kids to get out of exams so they can trend,” junior Nina Kothari said. “I think that kids think getting out of exams is acceptable and a normal thing when it should not be.”

Some students believe that this creates a misunderstanding about how CHS’ handles exam exemptions.

“I think it reinforces the perception that CHS students feel superior and entitled, and gain unfair advantages over other students,” senior Jillian Kirsch said. “You should be expected to take exams, and I do not think people actually feel that this is an expectation anymore.”

Teachers are also concerned about the number of exam exemptions this past semester. As dialogue between teachers began, Elected Faculty Representative (EFR) Adam Field created an informal survey to discover how many students were exempted.

“The faculty has expressed concern to me about the number of exemptions during the fall semester final exams,” Field said. “I did an informal survey of social studies teachers asking them how many of their students were exempted from finals.”

Field’s informal study found that 96 students were exempted from at least one of their final exams. This number excludes students who are not enrolled in any social studies classes. Teachers were simply notified if their student was exempted from their exam; they were not necessarily told whether that student was exempted from all exams or just theirs.

“The number of students who were exempted from a social studies exam is substantially higher than 48,” Field said.

The Observer contacted Whitman and Wootton High School, to inquire about the number of exam exemptions at each school. Though Wootton said they did not have a specific number, according to Whitman acting principal Karen Bryant, fewer than 12 students were exempted.

“It is all based on data, so perceptions do not count,” Benz said. “I know some people say these guys are just gaming [the system], they are this, that and the other thing. That is not the case because in every case, I require a medical note from the doctor stating that the student had been under treatment.”

Solutions to reducing the large number of exam exemptions have been discussed at CHS, not only by teachers but students as well. A popular solution is to have many of the students with smaller procedures, such as the removal of wisdom teeth or college visits, auditions or tryouts, take make-up exams after exam week, thus turning many exemptions into postponements.

According to Spanish teacher Kristin Beheler, making up exams is a good idea.

“That is how it was at my other school, no one was ever exempt,” Beheler said. “If kids could not take an exam then they would just make it up when they got back. It is not a big deal to make it up. It goes case by case, [based on] convenience for both the students and the staff.”

Field, like many, hope that going forward, “we are able to reduce the number of exemptions.”

“It has been determined that at the end of first semester, a disproportionate number of exemptions were requested,” Benz said.  “The important thing is that we have identified a problem, situational to illnesses primarily, we will now develop a plan for the future.”