How much should high school final exams count?

Photo: KLFY

End-of-course tests could count for up to 30 percent of a high school student’s final grade, beginning this year.

The exams — in core subjects like biology, math and English — now count for 15 percent of the final grade in Lafayette Parish.

Local high school principals and other officials suggested increasing the tests’ weight as part of changes to the pupil progression plan, which guides most academic grading and instruction. But the Lafayette Parish School Board held off on approving the change Wednesday. The board will take up the matter again next week.

“Thirty percent seems high to me,” said board member Erick Knezek. “I understand the rationale of trying to make the test more of a focus because it is important, it is a good measure of their progress and their skills and it is a good assessment of how the school is doing. But I did not see a 30 percent weight until college. It could have a significant impact.”

Knezek said he could envision students who do well on tests give less attention to coursework “because they’re going to make it up on the exam.” He also worried about students who have test anxiety and may not perform well on the exams, even if they understand the material in class.

Even Superintendent Donald Aguillard said the jump from 15 percent to 30 percent might be too “aggressive.” Aguillard suggested the tests count 25 percent toward the final grade.

“There’s a sense that students could be and should be performing at higher levels on the EOC exam, and so that’s the compelling argument for trying to increase the value,” Aguillard said. “I think we’d like the students to take the exam more seriously and hence score higher on the EOC exam, more closely reflecting their ability.”

Chief Academic Officer Annette Samec said an analysis showed that raising the weight to 30 percent would not result in more students failing courses, and could help some students pass.

Knezek said he hopes delaying the vote will allow for more input from teachers and parents. Rodolfo Espinoza, president of the Lafayette Parish Association of Educators, said he thinks the issue deserves more discussion.

“This should be discussed with a broader group of teachers and others,” said Espinoza, who also teaches at Lafayette High. “Most of us do consider EOC a generally valid test; however, most of our gifted and honors teachers have said the test is too easy. Their concern is that weighting it more, versus coursework, would diminish the impact of the coursework.”

–Allowing students to be retained, or held back, one time in kindergarten through third grade. Currently, students cannot be retained in kindergarten. Karen Williams, the district’s director of elementary schools, said the goal is to put students on track as early as possible.

–Creating an extended day program for struggling middle school students. Classes would take place for one hour, twice a week, for 63 days, and would be outside of school hours. Attendance and discipline rules would apply. Students could attend the extended program for an entire year if they fail fifth, sixth or seventh grade, in lieu of being held back. The program would also be open to students failing math or English after each nine week period, for the next nine weeks. Parents would have to agree to have students in the program.

The board also took up the following matters at its regular meeting:

–Board President Tommy Angelle agreed to Aguillard’s request to form a technology steering committee, comprised of board members, educators, district officials and technology experts from the community. Aguillard said the objectives would be to define revenue needed to get the schools’ infrastructure up to 21st century standards, develop a three-year strategy for a one-to-one student-to-device ratio and suggest funding means to maintain technology in schools.

–The board selected Abell, Crozier, Davis Architects to build a new high school in the Youngsville area. The firm has never built a Lafayette Parish public school, but has done numerous projects for the district, including additions and renovations.

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