Superintendent’s Corner: How Common Exams affect your child

May. 27, 2013 @ 06:34 PM

As the school year comes to an end and we prepare to celebrate our graduates who have completed their time with Durham Public Schools, our teachers, administrators and students are finishing up some last-minute but all-important business – exams.
We all know how stressful exam time can be. School administrators are looking for proctors, teachers are rearranging schedules, students are digging deep to recall what they’ve learned and working hard to perform well. So when the state announced that school systems would be required to administer another set of exams every year, that news wasn’t met with enthusiasm. But these new exams – called the Common Exams by the state Department of Public Instruction (DPI) – serve an important role in measuring what students know and what they can do after completing a course or a grade.
Because Common Exams are new this year, here is some information about what they are, who takes them, and what parents can expect.
Only students in middle and high schools will take Common Exams this year. In middle school, five state-required exams are administered, and they do not count toward the students’ final grades: sixth-, seventh- and eighth-grade social studies and sixth- and seventh-grade science.
High school students have 14 Common Exams, which count as 15 percent of their final grades: English I, III, IV; Geometry, Algebra II, Pre-Calculus, Advanced Functions and Modeling; Earth Science, Physical Science, Chemistry, Physics; World History, Civics and Economics, and U.S. History.
The exams take about 90 minutes each to complete, and then teachers spend two to four hours scoring them. The good news is that classes that have Common Exams will not have a teacher-made final. The Common Exam required by the state Department of Public Instruction serves as that class’s only final. More good news (for students anyway): Schools will operate on a two-hour early release schedule on Common Exam days, which will typically be completed in early June.
I know it seems like all we do is test these days … and the end of the school year is a hectic time already. DPS and our school board work hard to comply with the state requirements and we also offer our thoughts on what’s best for our students. For classes that are not already assessed through an existing exam, the data collected using the new Common Exams can  provide valuable insight for teachers, and in fact forms one part of a teacher’s evaluation. All of our middle and high schools have committed to administering the Common Exams in a timely and organized fashion. We have established procedures to work the exams into our schedules, to provide accommodations for students with special needs, and to ensure fairness and anonymity in scoring the exams.
Final exams, like so much of the work we do in our school system, take a great deal of time and effort. We appreciate the support of our parents, families and community members during this hectic – but important – time.
Dr. Eric J. Becoats is superintendent of Durham Public Schools. His column appears the last Tuesday of each month.