Friday, January 18, 2008

Empty Classrooms

Today officially marked the end of the first semester at our high school. It is the first time the semester has not ended prior to our Christmas break. This year for the first time in my nine years of teaching, because of a new state law prohibiting schools from beginning school before Labor Day, we had two additional weeks of school after our two week winter break. Most students put in the usual complaint prior to the break about having to remember everything when they got back (because most don't actually learn it well enough to begin with.) But it almost didn't matter that they forgot what they learned.

This year we also had a very generous semester final exam exemption policy, which meant that many, many students did not have to study, learn, or relearn everything from the previous 18 weeks for their comprehensive exams. Students who earned exam exemption not only did NOT have to take their cumulative exams, they did not have to come to school during the period in which the exam was given. So this last week, being an academic "dead" week (no more new material covered so that students could prepare for their upcoming exam exemptions by playing more video games or having meaningless conversations with their friends in coffee houses after school) was artificially LONG. I, however, made the most of it by squeezing in chapter tests at the beginning of the week and forwent any review for the finals. There's nothing I could have done, though, about Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday, which were officially exam days.

Since nearly half the school was exempt, the halls and classrooms were mostly empty on these days. Those unfortunate students who were NOT exempt, mostly because of failing grades or excessive absences, were enjoying a little more elbow room. I had about five students in each class take my final exam, a 33 question, mulitple choice exam, whose questions were pulled DIRECTLY FROM OLD CHAPTER TESTS, tests that we had gone over in detail in class. Even though the students were fully aware of this, knowing that I was not even going to change numbers or rearrange answer choices, very few passed, and nobody scored a perfect score, even though I had a few highly-motivated, top-notch students electing to take the exam, even though they were exempt. I'm convinced that if I had given the final exam with all 33 correct answer choices highlighted, that I STILL would have had several preAP (college-bound) students fail.

The most unusual part about the whole exemption idea was that the eight exams were spread out over three full days, meaning that Wednesday and Thursday had one "dead" class during the lunch period where ALL students were expected to attend, including the students who did not have exams the rest of the day. If that doesn't make sense, then get this! Today was the last day of exams, with two exams in the morning. The last two periods of the day were non-exam classes . . . at the end of the semester. . . . that ALL students were expected to attend. So after EVERYONE was done with their exams (or exemptions), as their final semester averages were pretty much locked down, there were two full class periods full of absolute nothingness. Most exempt students took the unexcused absence (which is unfortunate they had to do), but I think I would have done the same thing. Of the 10 people I actually had in class, we watched an Isaac Newton video for the first half of class, then picked our noses the last half.

It would have made more sense to have exams over a two-day period, with no "dead" periods on any day OR to have made the last day an early-release half day (which would have required a little planning and forethought in making the calendar LAST year.) But I gotten quite used to the whole "reacting" to circumstances and "trial and error" leadership style. I have to say, it is an exciting and entertaining (although sometimes frustrating) environment in which to work. You never know what tomorrow will bring. Heck, tomorrow, that might even be the new National Educational Motto!

1 comment:

Leslie said...

I feel your pain. I felt it all week, to be exact.