Current policy dictates that seniors may only miss five days second semester in order to exempt out of exams, which poses a challenge for students who miss school for legitimate reasons.

According to the Hillsborough County school district student handbook, high school seniors who adhere to several policies, including missing no more than five days of school during second semester, are exempt from taking final exams. However, this policy disregards serious illnesses, college business and other situations that would interfere with school attendance. Exemptions would be fairer if the attendance policy was tweaked.

The student handbook dictates that students must earn at least three quality points (or a 3.0 in the class) in their final semester, at least one quality point (or a 2.0 in the class) in the fourth quarter, have satisfactory conduct record and miss no more than five days of school. The first three rules reasonably exist with few complaints. It is the final policy, which is intended to stop students from skipping in their final days of high school, that has created controversy among students.

Many students are forced to miss school for circumstances out of their control, such as a death in the family, long-term sickness, college visits and various other circumstances that cause students to miss more than five days in their second semester. Given, some students (many plagued with senioritis) are prone to skip school. But that assumption disregards the students who miss for legitimate reasons.

Another issue that has resulted from the current policy is that students have taken to calling the five absences “senior days” and skipping on those five days just for the sake of skipping school. Without “senior days”, these students likely would not have missed school on those days. Other students who miss five days for serious reasons no longer feel the need to attend school everyday, since they have already lost their exam exemptions.

In addition to this, attendance does not always indicate that a student is doing work. A student may have perfect attendance but he or she may be barely applying him or herself in class.

A more suitable alternative to the absence policy would be to base the exam exemptions on either a more balanced mixed of absences and grades or on grades alone. Currently, students are required to earn a total of three points, or a C average, in their classes second semester to exempt of exams. Further, they are only required to earn one quality point, or a D grade, in their classes during the fourth quarter. If the county were to raise the grade requirement to exempt exams by implementing a higher minimum required second semester GPA, students would be more motivated to work hard in their final semester without the pressure of coming to school sick. The county could either bump the minimum number of absences or get rid of the policy altogether.

Another suitable policy would be to remove the five day absence maximum from excused absences. If, instead, students were unable to exempt their exams if they had an unexcused absence, students with legitimate absences would be able to miss school as their parent or legal guardian saw fit.

Of course, the policy has definitely boosted senior attendance, as any school district official knows. But there are fairer incentives to boost attendance that don’t involve exam exemptions. Other counties boast of success in rewarding students with incentives such as laptops, giftcards, cars and other prizes. This school has even experimented with some of these rewards. If administrators were to implement this specifically for seniors, it may prove to be a suitable alternative to the senior exam policy.

Although these changes might seem drastic, other counties have already created policies like this. Hopefully Hillsborough will make some needed changes in the future.

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