by Elizabeth Stalford
This year has marked a change in the Buncombe County calendar that students have not experienced before. With exams ending on Wed., May 29, there will be five days of school remaining once exams are completed. However, despite this extra week of school, a new state law will take effect in the coming school year requiring 185 days of school or 1,025 instructional hours in the classroom.
“This is all so confusing,” junior Camille Smarjesse said. “It makes no sense that the state requires more days of school than a few years ago, yet there will be five days of school left after exams. We’re supposed to learn everything before exams anyways, so what was the point of adding more school?”
Principal Amy Rhoney said that if schools continue to implement online exams, like a few classes had last year, then exams will have to occur even earlier.
“Certain exams occurred earlier than others last year because they were online, like the biology exam,” Rhoney said. “I haven’t heard any official news regarding online exams, but the need to use school technology to take online exams would definitely cause a shift in the exam schedule.”
According to Buncombe County Director of Testing and Accountability Jeff Gorsuch, the schedule chosen for testing this year was developed based on several considerations. Gorsuch also explained that participation in the new exams is required by the state as a condition of No Child Left Behind.
“The most important consideration was probably the requirement from the Board of Education that exams count for 25 percent of students’ final grade,” Gorsuch said. “In order to follow this requirement, the scoring process must be complete before teachers’ last working day, June 7. It will be a lengthy process because we need to administer the tests, have specialists score the written answers, score the multiple choice portions, set a grading scale, and generate score rosters.”
In order for teachers to finalize grades by June 7, the results must be ready by the 5th. In order for them to ready by that point, scoring must begin on May 31, which is why the exam testing period was scheduled between May 21 and May 29.
AP English teacher Joi Keen said that although many students expect to be done with school as soon as exams are over, that is not the case.
“Exams may be ending sooner, but school will not be over. There will always be some part of the curriculum left to cover,” Keen said. “I can guarantee all teachers won’t be watching movies to pass the time, because there is always something to do.”
AP United States History teacher Robert Browning said that although he understands why exams have to take place earlier this year, he wishes it could have been planned differently.
“To be honest, I’m not sure this is the best plan for Roberson,” Browning said.
“It would be better to have exams during the last few days of school because students would have better behavior and more motivation to trudge through those last few days.”
Teachers at Roberson are approaching the last five days of school in various ways. For example, Brian Feid’s AP World History class is ending the year with a project where students research, bake, and share an appetizer, entrée, and dessert from a country outside the United States.
“I did the World Foods project last year and it really fun,” junior Jonny Yang said. “I think it was a great way to have fun after a year of hard work and keep learning about world cultures at the same time.”
Although the state law requires 185 days of school, Buncombe County’s calendar for the 2013-2014 school year only includes 182 days. This is permitted because that schdeule still exceeds the required 1,025 instructional hours while including three days of professional development.
“It’s understandable that there’s confusion right now, but the fact of the matter is that exams will take time to score, and students will want to know if they passed or failed their classes before summer begins,” Director of Secondary Education Leland Blankenship said. “Since a requirement of the new common exams is that teachers can’t grade their own students’ tests, the tests must be collected in the central office and then redistributed by content matter.”
According to Blankenship, Buncombe County has planned for more than the necessary amount of instructional hours as cushion for early releases, potential two-hour delays, and events such as pep rallies that would not count for the total amount.
“This will be a new calendar system and a new experience for Buncombe County,” Blankenship said. “It looks like we’re extending school and not using all of the days, but in reality, we would’ve had to push exams back no matter how many days were in the calendar.”