Preparing for STAAR: District reduces exemptions to prepare for end of course exams

In order to adapt to the new Texas Standard Assessment test, STAAR EOC, Alief ISD has modified the exemption policies to better prepare its students.

To qualify for an exemption, you must have at least an 85 average in the class or 80 for Pre-AP/AP classes. The student must also be cleared of all student debts such as library fine or owed textbook money. No more than two absences to school, excused or unexcused, and two tardies in a class or advisory will be allowed to qualify for the exemption. You must also not have been assigned to Good Choices or received stricter penalty infractions for discipline or academic integrity issues. No more than two office referrals will be allowed to qualify for the exemption.

For all courses not tied to an EOC exam or for students not required to take an EOC exam, the final exam will weigh 15 percent of the final grade. However, in the first and third terms, all finals will be count as major grades.

If the EOC exam will count as 15 percent of the final grade, then the final exam will be administered and count as a major grade with standard grading scale policy in effect.

If the 15 percent calculation of EOC into the final grade is withdrawn, the final exam will weigh 15 percent and be factored into the current traditional grading structure.

Students are required to attend the class they have exempted on the day of the test.

Number of Exemptions per Grade Level:
9th Grade: Terms 1 and 3- No Exemptions; Terms 2 and 4- 1 Exemption
10th Grade: 1 Exemption per Term
11th Grade: Terms 1 and 3- 1 Exemption; Terms 2 and 4- 2 Exemptions
12th Grade: Terms 1 and 3- 2 Exemptions; Terms 2 and 4- 4 Exemptions

No exemptions in core classes during the 1st and 3rd terms for 9th through 11th grade.

The district’s decision to cut the number of final exam exemptions students can earn is disappointing, but the reasons behind the change are understandable, and there are even some benefits.

The district’s decision to cut down on exemptions was to prepare the classes of 2015 and later for the STAAR EOC tests which are reputed to be more difficult than TAKS. TAKS only tested students by grade level in the basic subjects of Math, English, Social Studies, and Science. Now, the STAAR EOC tests are course-specific. For example, if you take Algebra II, the EOC will only test you on Algebra II. For any academic core class taken in high school through the 11th grade, a STAAR EOC test will follow.

The final exams help the teachers analyze students’ strengths and weaknesses. With that information, teachers can customize plans to help their students perform better on the STAAR EOC. The final exams serve as an important checkpoint. Performing well on the STAAR EOC is important because if the students do not meet the minimum requirement, they will have to re-take it. They will also have to take remedial classes, which occur mostly in the summer. The district reduced the amount of exemptions so freshmen and sophomores can take their finals to help them prepare for the EOC.

For juniors and seniors who do not have to take the STAAR EOC, the district’s decision seems to have a negative impact. In truth, there are some benefits. All of the finals are now only 15 percent of the overall grade. Students who do poorly on the final exams won’t have their overall grade in the class plummet as much as they would prior to the change. For terms 1 and 3, all finals will count as major grades and not as a separate percent grade. This is of great benefit for juniors and seniors who do not have to take the EOC.

This new exemptions policy applies to all Alief high schools. Kerr was actually granted a few more exemptions due to block scheduling.

Though the policy on exemptions changed, it does not change the fact we still have finals. No matter what grade we are currently in, we still need to study for those finals. The benefit of the final not having as much of an impact on our overall grade average is one less thing we have to worry about.