After months of discussion, the Stokes County Board of Education agreed at a meeting last week to let the new Measures of Student Learning, or Common Exams, count toward 15 percent of a high school student’s semester grade.
Typical CTE, EOC and teacher-made exams count 25 percent toward the semester grade, but the new test is unfamiliar territory for Stokes County students and teachers.
The exam policy also states that students who would normally be exempt from the test will not be negatively affected by their score. This suggestion was made by Board Chair Mike Rogers and approved by the board. Students cannot be exempt from Common Exams as they would be in other courses if they met certain attendance and grade criteria.
School board member Sonya Cox said the board does not want to send the message that students shouldn’t take the test seriously. Rogers said they all have to take the test, but those meeting the normal exemption requirements can only be affected positively.
North Stokes Principal Nathan Rasey was in attendance, and he noted that exam exemptions have been helpful in keeping kids in school, because it provides them incentive not to miss class. Rogers’ suggestion would still provide incentive, he said.
Rogers said the school system has to put a new test out there that it is not familiar with, and kids should not be held responsible for any problems with it. Board member Becky Boles said she agreed and that teachers don’t even know how to prepare for the new test.
While Cox said she did not think the board should set precedents for future MSLs, she thought there were so many unknowns in this first year that she could live with the proposal at this time.
Board member Pat Messick asked school administrators if the school board had the authority to set a policy that the test could only help students who would typically be exempt, and Dr. Todd Martin, assistant superintendent, said yes.
As Martin explains it, the state’s main focus with the Common Exams or MSLs is on evaluating teacher effectiveness, not student performance. Many school systems implemented the new tests in the fall, but Stokes County will give these tests for the first time this spring. Martin said one problem noted with the test in the fall was that the students could typically handle the questions but it seemed to take too long. The tests will be shortened before being released in the spring, Martin said.
The Common Exams are not given in classes that already have an EOC. Courses that will include a Common Exam range from physics and chemistry to English 1 and Algebra II to world history. The majority of the questions are multiple choice, but constructed response items such as written responses are also included.
While the school system will not get full results from the test until October, the schools will be able to scan in the tests and get basic grading so it can tell if a student’s grade is sufficient to pass the course.