Exempt or not exempt? You decide

As the school year winds to a close for seniors, many realize they may be exempt from exams for the first (and last) time in their high school careers. They have to meet certain attendance requirements and grade standards to do so.

With prom, graduation, and summer right around the corner and college on the horizon, final exams and projects feel cumbersome and unnecessary to seniors. If exempt, seniors can focus on enjoying their last days of high school rather than worrying about studying for tests.

But is this exam exemption all it’s cracked up to be? Students like Justin Rosa, who worked hard all year in their academic classes, were excited to skip the last finals of their high school career.

Rosa viewed exemption as not just a reward for academic achievement, but also an incentive to keep him motivated during the last few months of high school. “It [helped me] give a damn for the final stretch,” said Rosa. “It made me get to class on time.”  

Senior attendance and grades are closely monitored from the beginning of the second semester to May 18. A snapshot of senior grades is first taken at 2:30 p.m. on May 1. If a student has lower than a B- in any one of their classes, they will not be exempt for that individual class’s exam. However, a C+ in one class will not affect exam exemption eligibility in their other classes.

Attendance is the most important aspect of the exam exemption policy, as one unexcused absence will make a senior take all of their exams. Though attendance is mapped until May 18, students have until the end of the day on May 22 to bring in any attendance notes to excuse their absences.

If a student has accumulated three or more tardies in one class, it will be counted as an unexcused absence and will subsequently cause the student to lose their eligibility to be exam exempt.

Six or more absences in one class also disqualify seniors. A preliminary list of exemptions is sent out to teachers on May 21, with the final list of exemptions coming shortly after on May 23.

The list that the teachers receive provides information about which seniors are exempt, which are not, and why. Those seniors who aren’t exempt end up taking some or all of their exams. In some cases, seniors don’t care about winning this race. With sports and other extracurricular activities taking up a lot of their free time, being exempt from exams wasn’t a priority.

I talked to Josh GerberDolan about how he felt when he found out that he wasn’t exempted from his exams. He said he wasn’t mad or upset because he never really tried to meet the attendance standards.“The system is fair and I just didn’t try hard enough,” he said.

Another story is the students who tried to earn exemption but were not able to. They talk about how “rigged” the system felt, advantaging those who were already doing well in school.  

Others complained that a lot of their teachers switched their final exams to projects which were mandatory, so even if they were “exam exempt,” they were expected to do high-stakes, end of term work.

Susan Zygmont, the administrative assistant in charge of monitoring attendance, said what caused the most seniors to fail to meet exemption requirements–having unexcused absences and not bringing in notes to excuse them.