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A weekend interview with Pinellas School Board member Linda Lerner



Lerner Pinellas School Board members are scheduled to vote Sept. 15 on a change in the district’s decades-old exam exemption policy that allows students to skip finals if they have good grades and few absences. Prompted by concerns that some kids who are sick with swine flu might come to school to avoid racking up absences that would jeopardize their exemption, superintendent Julie Janssen is recommending that the policy’s attendance requirement be suspended temporarily. Additionally, students who want to exempt exams would be required to maintain an "A" or "B" in each of the first, second, and third six weeks grading period rather than earn an A or B average overall. Board member Linda Lerner weighs in on the issue in a Gradebook interview with Pinellas education reporter Donna Winchester.

Q: In your 18 years on the board, how many times has the exam exemption issue come up?

Lerner: I’d say it’s come up maybe four times. The last time we discussed it at any length was six or seven years ago when Dr. (Howard) Hinesley was superintendent.

Q: But it’s come back up recently?

Lerner: Yes. Back in June, a few teachers came to us and said that students knew exactly how many days they could miss and still exempt their exams. The students were missing just up to the number of days that were allowed. That was when the board and Dr. Janssen said, ‘We need to look at this again.’

Q: So the board already had been planning to talk about this?

Lerner: Yes. We were planning to pull together a committee to look at it in depth. We’re still planning to do that. The swine flu brought more of an urgency to it because we don’t want kids coming to school sick.

Q: What was the rationale behind the policy in the first place? Lerner: It’s been related to attendance. Years ago, we were shown data that indicted kids would have better attendance if they had an incentive. The policy hasn’t always been the same as it is now. In the beginning, the policy was not that you could exempt all exams. You could exempt up to three in a semester. Then it changed, and you didn’t have to take any if you maintained the attendance requirement. I voted against that. I’ve always thought kids should be prepared to take final exams.

Q: Besides students, who supports this policy? Is it something parents seem to want?

Lerner: It’s something that principals wanted. Whenever board members have suggested that all students should take final exams, we get comments from principals who say the exemption is an incentive for good attendance.

Q: What is your view on exam exemptions?

Lerner: For both the short term and the long term, I would say do away with exemptions altogether, except maybe for second-semester seniors who have A or B grades. A lot of people will argue that if a student has an A or B average, he or she knows the material. But I think finals should be comprehensive exams that students have to take to pass the course.

Q: What do you think about the superintendent’s recommendation for a temporary policy?

Lerner: Well, I can see the reason for not tying attendance to exam exemptions. We don’t want kids coming to school sick. But I would have liked it if the board could have discussed this at a workshop.

Q: Any idea how the vote will go on the 15th?

I think the choice in the short term will be to approve the new policy or to do away with exam exemptions altogether. Then we can have a larger discussion as we look at the 2010-11 school year.

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


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