By Melissa Dunn, Copy and Features Editor
The current final exam exemption policy, only applicable for seniors during the spring semester, requires an unweighted class average of 85 or above, no more than 4 total absences, and no more than 4 unexcused tardies. Excused, pre-approved, and unexcused absences all count towards this total. Students with more than 4 total absences but less than 4 unexcused absences this semester may still exempt exams if their class average is 90 or higher as of May 11. Exemption is determined per each class period, so it is possible to not meet the requirements in one class, but still exempt finals in other classes.
The school enforces such a strict policy in order to incentivize seniors to attend classes instead of unnecessarily skipping school. The goal is to discourage seniors from falling ill to to the second semester senior plague frequently referred to as “senioritis.” However, the policy is unaccommodating to many seniors who have certain, necessary out of school responsibilities they must accomplish second semester. For example, second semester is when many seniors need to tour colleges they have been accepted to. Under the AHS exemption policy, pre-approved absences for college visits—which are typically excused absences—are categorized as unexcused and count against a senior trying to exempt their finals. The ability to tour schools before officially committing is a crucial aspect of the college decision process.The current policy provides such limited flexibility for seniors who must allocate their limited 4 absences between touring their top 2-3 schools and staying home sick.
While the administration does not consider college visits—a decision that impacts the next 4 years of a senior’s life—a legitimate excused absence, all school field trips regardless of length or destination are marked as excused. The irony that journalism and Spanish classes that take weeklong trips to New York City or France are excused is not lost among many seniors who have to face the tough decision of either touring colleges during admitted student days or exempting their finals. Additionally, hospitalization and illness are deemed to be unexcused as well. I understand that illness is a loophole many seniors would potentially take advantage of, but it’s unfathomable that a medical emergency or hospitalization counts against seniors trying to exempt. These requirements feel unfair and outdated for the 21st century. With student stress levels being the highest they’ve ever been, the expectation that students come to school even when sick is unhealthy and harmful.
The exemption policies vary significantly even at other schools within Fulton County. At Milton High School, seniors can exempt an exam with as long as they have less than 5 unexcused absences. Unlike AHS, unexcused absences do not count against exempting seniors and they only need to be passing their classes instead of having a 90 or above average.
In other counties across Georgia like Cobb and Forsyth, there are much easier requirements for exemption, and students in all grade levels are eligible for at least some form of exemption. At Walton High School in Cobb County, any student—not just seniors—who has missed 2 or less days of school qualify for “incentive”, a bonus that allows them to exempt 2 exams and boosts their final exam grade 10 points in each class. Students from any grade who miss over 2 days are still eligible to exempt up to 2 finals per semester, as long as they have an A average in the class, but their exam grades simply remain unboosted. Rewarding students from all grade levels for stellar attendance would boost motivation throughout the AHS community.
AHS would be wise to adopt a similar model nearby schools have exhibited that rewards students for impeccable attendance while not unduly burdening overwhelmed seniors for prioritizing college visits and other responsibilities. All grade levels stand to benefit if exemption eligibility is expanded, and it’s time AHS reevaluates their standards to become more homogenous with nearby schools.