Objections to Exemptions

Objections to Exemptions

Ever since Memphis City Schools merged with Shelby County Schools, White Station has exempted students from their final exams if they score a 90 or above in the class and have no more than three excused absences. Students enjoy the opportunity to get out of school three days and seven exams sooner, but the system has its flaws. The most disliked feature of the current exemption system is its absence requirements. Many students feel the absence limit as it exists now is too restrictive and unfair.

“I believe [the absence limit] is too low, because emergency situations in which a student is not able to attend school should not be counted against that student,” Sage Scott (9) said.

Furthermore, the grading system is arbitrary – the 90 required is not a specific point on the grading scale. It is a point awkwardly between a “B” at 85 and an “A” at 93, only seeming significant because it is divisible by ten.

Those, however, are superficial details when a larger problem exists. One that exists with the fundamental concepts of exempting from an exam at all. For example, take a situation where a student was exempt but had less than a 93. Many students reported they would not take an exam in that situation to possibly raise their grade.

“If I was exempt, I just wouldn’t take it at all, because I feel I’ve done an adequate amount of the work and I’ve studied all year, so why would I continue with that?” Maddie Smith (11) said.

If a student chooses to be satisfied with a “B,” that is their right.  If they struggle in the class and feel they would not do well on an exam, it may actually help their final grade. But the opposite can be true as well: a student may shy away from an exam that could bring their grade up to an A.

Skipping final exams also can have detrimental effects on students. Math is a prime example of these risks. Math builds on itself, so what you learn freshman year matters until you graduate. Final exams for math classes compile everything learned and forces students to review all material, which helps to ensure students do not finish the class missing critical information they will need next year.

Nevertheless, that does not apply to all classes. The knowledge gained in gym class, for example, is probably one that does not need to be constantly reminded. However, exemptions do exist for every class, and their very existence has changed the perspective of final exams.

“When I was middle and elementary school, final exams were the norm,” Scott said. “I didn’t think it’d be any different.”

When exemptions were added, they may have been considered a benefit, but things have shifted. They are the new norm, and the final exams are a punishment rather than a standard assessment. Teachers now say “If you miss days you’ll have to take exams,” instead of “If you don’t miss days, you won’t have to take exams.”

The exemption system as it is now caused this problem, but to just throw it out would be the wrong solution. Exemptions are a good reward, but only if they are treated as one. They should not be the standard, because as unpleasant as exams can be, they do serve a purpose in education that can not be ignored.