Next year, finals to be mandatory at all Wichita high schools

06/24/2014 10:07 AM

08/06/2014 11:01 AM

Starting next school year, final exams will be mandatory for all Wichita high school students.

District officials say they plan to roll out guidelines that will do away with exemptions that allow students at some schools to bypass final exams if they have a certain grade or attendance record.

“We want our kids to be college and career ready, and most of the kids that are going off to college will experience final exams not as an option but as an expectation,” said Bill Faflick, assistant superintendent for secondary schools.

“For our kids to really, truly be prepared for those, a high school finals process is going to be something that can be very beneficial.”

Faflick said district administrators and high school principals have been drafting finals guidelines and plan to introduce them this fall. The plan calls for mandatory final exams in every subject every semester, he said.

Depending on the course or teacher, a semester final “may take the form of a final project or a presentation or paper,” Faflick said. “It doesn’t mean that everybody is going to sit down for a 90-minute killer exam.”

Officials are discussing whether certain course assessments, such as advanced placement exams and those administered as part of the International Baccalaureate diploma program, will count as finals in those classes, Faflick said.

“We don’t want finals to be gotchas,” he said. “We want finals to be accountability pieces … for students to really demonstrate what they’ve learned.”

Most Wichita high schools – Heights, North, Northeast Magnet, South, Southeast and West – have mandatory finals. East and Northwest still allow exemptions.

At East, for example, if a student has an A or B in a class and fewer than five absences, he or she is not required to take the final exam. At Northwest, the policy requires an A in the class and three or fewer absences.

Final exams normally are scheduled the last two or three days of the semester. Students exempt from finals aren’t required to report to school those days.

Matthew Creasman, principal at Northeast Magnet High School, said the new guidelines won’t mean much of a change at his school.

“We’re a college-prep school, so every one of our kids takes finals in every class,” Creasman said. “We’ve been doing that since our inception.”

At East and Northwest, though, the change already is prompting complaints from some students. Some said mandatory finals would remove an added incentive to attend class and be on time. Others said students who get good grades shouldn’t have to take final exams as well.

“At the end of the semester, even without taking finals, I’m worried about keeping my grades up above a certain point,” said Andrew Figueiredo, 16, a sophomore in East’s IB program who so far has not taken a final exam.

“And having to take seven different tests at the end of the year, being forced to take them all, that’s really a huge burden. That’s a lot of stress.”

Southeast and West implemented mandatory finals this year. Officials said the change has been smooth and so far has not affected attendance rates.

“The underclassmen – for them it was kind of, ‘Whatever,’ ” said Leroy Parks, principal at Southeast. “And for the seniors, well, I didn’t get very many Christmas cards.”

West High principal Joel Hudson said he collected feedback from teachers, parents and current and former students before mandating final exams this year.

“The consensus was we would be better preparing our students for the future if we required them to participate in some kind of final,” Hudson said. “It doesn’t matter who you are, you’re going to be required to take some kind of a test or competency exam.”

Gil Alvarez, principal at Northwest, said his school already was considering a move to mandatory exams. The districtwide directive, which should be finalized this spring, just moved the proposal along more quickly, he said.

“If students are not used to doing exams, haven’t done it for three years and all of a sudden they’re doing it, could that be a little added stress? Possibly,” Alvarez said.

“In the end, though, I think it’s for the best. … Sometimes it’s hard to see the pluses right now, but later on when they leave, they can look back and say, ‘You know what? I’m glad they prepared us for this.’ ”

East High principal Ken Thiessen said he couldn’t say how the new guidelines would affect East until the directive is finalized by district administrators.

“Once we receive this information, we will be able to process it and make decisions related to implementation,” Thiessen said in an e-mail.

Because the change is an administrative guideline and not a district policy, it would not require a vote by the Wichita school board.

Faflick said a districtwide directive on final exams is “trying to create some unity among the schools in that process.”

“A lot of kids don’t like to have certain things, but when they’re good for them, you go ahead and do those things,” Faflick said. “As educators, we want to make sure we are fully equipping and fully preparing our kids for success at the next level.”

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