Prince William County high school students will not take traditional mid-year semester exams next year under a pilot program announced at the School Board meeting Wednesday.
Michael Mulgrew, county schools’ associate superintendent for high schools, told board members all 11 Prince William high school principals delivered a joint letter to county schools officials last fall asking that the current format for the January tests be scrapped in order to give schools more flexibility and teachers more instructional time with students.
The change will mean the three late-January school days reserved for the high school exam schedule – during which schools were dismissed at 11:30 a.m. instead of 2 p.m. – will revert to regular school days, Mulgrew said.
Also, high school grading policies for the first semester will change to reflect the lack of a formal exam. Under the pilot program, semester grades will be determined by averaging students’ first and second quarter grades, Mulgrew said.
Currently, the semester exam counts for 20 percent of a student’s semester grade, with the first- and second-quarter grades counting for 40 percent each.
Students will still take formal exams at the end of the school year, which will count for 20 percent of second-semester grades, as they always have, Mulgrew said.
The change will not keep teachers from giving their own end-of-quarter or end-of-semester tests during their regular class periods in January if they choose to. But now they will be permitted to do so at a time they consider best for students.
Prince William high schools have administered mid-year exams since the 1970s, when it was decided that students needed more experience with lengthy formal exams to prepare for college.
But now that students’ days contain so much more testing – including Virginia’s end-of-year Standards of Learning tests, or SOLs, as well as Advanced Placement, International Baccalaureate or Cambridge Programme tests – a lack of testing experience is no longer a problem, Mulgrew said.
The bigger concern is a lack of time to prepare for those important end-of-year SOL and AP tests.
“All we’re asking here is to give our schools more flexibility and not stop the train for two-and-a-half weeks” for instruction, Mulgrew said. “I think (students) will do better on those AP tests if we give our teachers more time.”
The mid-semester exams typically take about five days of regular instruction time away for students, but even more time was lost this past January when wintry weather caused schools to be delayed or closed during the exam schedule.
The resulting shifting of the high school exam days caused some confusion across all schools when the regularly scheduled January teacher workday had to be changed at the last minute to accommodate the change in the high school exam schedule.
Despite the fact that all Prince William high schools have signaled their intent to do away with formal mid-year exams next year, the move is technically a “pilot program,” and therefore does not require the School Board’s approval.
Still many board members expressed support for the change.
Board member Betty Covington (Potomac) said the principals know what’s best for their students when it comes to exams and the need for more instructional time.
“I certainly respect your recommendation,” she said.