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Education news and notes from Tampa Bay and Florida

Pinellas tightens exam exemption policy



Pinellas’ decades-old exam exemption policy, which allowed high school students to miss up to nine days of school and still opt out of exams if they maintained an A or B average, has changed.

Schools on a straight seven-period day have reduced the number of allowable absences to two per semester. Schools with modified block scheduling decreased their allowable absences to six per semester.

Unlike the case in Hillsborough schools, the change has nothing to do with swine flu. Disgruntled parents and students can instead blame the change on a wrinkle in the new high school schedule, which allows students to earn seven credits per year instead of six.

While the new schedule gives kids more opportunity to take electives and participate in dual enrollment, the amount of time for student instruction has not increased. More classes are simply being squeezed into the same block of time, which means less time per class.

Meanwhile, the state hasn’t reduced the amount of required instruction time per class: 135 hours at schools on a straight seven-period day and 120 hours at schools with modified block scheduling.

Something had to give, and it ended up being the number of allowable absences before students are required to take exams.

 “Schools were given all of this information and they formed committees to study options for scheduling models and held votes much of last school year,” Rita Vasquez, director of high school education, wrote to a parent who complained about the new policy. “Schools decided for themselves what type of schedule to adopt with full knowledge of the number of allowable absences students would be getting according to each model.”

It’s been nearly four years since the School Board discussed the exam exemption policy. In November 2005, then-superintendent Clayton Wilcox suggested doing away with it. Board members could not reach consensus, so the policy, first approved in the 1980s, remained in place.

Last May, the Hillsborough School District put its exam exemption policy program on hold when confirmed cases of the H1N1 virus began appearing across the Tampa Bay area. The School Board voted unanimously last month to continue the suspension to prevent students from coming to school sick.

Donna Winchester, Pinellas Education Reporter


[Last modified: Tuesday, May 25, 2010 10:34am]


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