Examining the exam policy


Photo Provided by Lilly Zaks

Students take a teacher-made final exam in their semester-long Honors Chemistry class.

Lilly Zaks, Staff Writer

    At the start of the school year, murmurs and rumors flew around, confusing everyone at RJ Reynolds. A common question began to appear in the minds of every student and staff member: Do absences count this school year for exam exemptions? Initially, no one knew. People made wild guesses that created shocking reactions that rippled through campus. Uncertainty surrounded every aspect of this critical decision, and students eagerly waited to hear one phrase. Now, RJR has an official exam exemption policy- and absences aren’t a factor. 

    Yes, that is right, the school is waiving the attendance requirement and extending the 2021-2022 exam policy for teacher-made exams. For a semester-long class, students are exempt from the exam provided they have a final grade above 70%. 

    But the continuation of this policy may have negative ramifications. Attendance is down at school, and many staff members believe something needs to be done about it.

    “The greatest thing that we can do is give you all [students] the product that you want to come to school for,” Principal Calvin Freeman said. 

    Staff and administrators are working to make school attendance more desirable. A policy not factoring in absences removes the incentive to come to school to be exempt from their teacher-made exams. 

    “Once students realized that attendance no longer mattered, there was a greater number of absences, especially closer to the end of the year,” AP English Language teacher and English department head chair Stephanie Walters said. 

    Despite these consequences, positive benefits can be reaped in a post-pandemic school year. 

    “I think the policy is good because we have to miss school sometimes, whether it’s for mental health or our physical health or emotional health,” sophomore Kaeliegh Brenner said. 

    Without a fixed number of absences, students feel less pressure to attend school when they don’t feel well enough to do so. Absences can consist of various reasons, including, but not limited to, COVID-19, the death of a family member, sports games, college visits, other illnesses, and countless other reasons. 

    While principals from schools in the WSFCS awaited the decision from the school board, false information spread like wildfire leaving people perplexed by the policy. 

    “I thought originally that absences didn’t really count, and then I heard that they did count, and then I heard that they didn’t count again,” sophomore Kate Walker said. “So right now I’m kind of confused, and I’m getting sick, but I’m not skipping school because I don’t want to have to.”

    This confusion can be explained by a timely, complex, multi-step process involving each school’s principal expressing different ideas, coming to a consensus, and reporting it to a superintendent who relayed the message to the school board. 

    “I think everybody was trying to make decisions that they thought would be primarily best for students,” Freeman said. “And so at one point, you come to an idea that says, ‘hey, this is going to be good,’ and then at another point you say, ‘hey, well, maybe this will be better.’” 

    The flip-flopping between solutions led to miscommunication among school staff members. 

    “At the very beginning of the year, we were told it would continue on as usual with it like it used to be, with attendance being in place,” Walters said. “And then we received a notice saying that attendance wouldn’t count, and then there was a lot of confusion. I think they kept going back and forth for a little bit, so there were a lot of mixed signals.”

    Freeman received word of the final exemption policy from the district at the start of 2023. Even though a conclusion was ultimately made, many people still need clarification about the policy and wish it was communicated more effectively. 

    Some students suggest announcements over the loudspeaker or by teachers in weekly homeroom meetings to reduce the uncertainty surrounding the policy. An official letter, phone call, or other methods could widely address parents and others outside the school campus. Yet, some issues with the announcement can already be foreshadowed. 

    “As soon as you start making those kinds of announcements, there is a tendency, see, for everybody to say, ‘oh, well, I don’t have to come to school then,’” Walters said. “It’s a catch-22; sometimes you want to keep that kind of close to your chest and not reveal it until the very last second.” 

    Nevertheless, the news is out: RJR is waiving the attendance requirement to be exempt from exams for the 2022-2023 school year. Whether it will have largely positive or negative impacts remains debatable, but one thing can be certain; At last, murmurs are silenced, rumors are squashed, and people’s questions have been answered.