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School board keeps exam policy

ISLE OF WIGHT
Isle of Wight County Schools’ final exam exemption policy will remain as-is for now. The school board declined to make changes to the policy’s verbiage during their meeting on Thursday evening, which would have changed the term “final exam” to “culminating activity.”

According to Superintendent Dr. Jim Thornton, the reason the board had been considering changing the verbiage was to make the division’s current policy better match its current practices.

They’re [teachers] not giving a multiple-choice exam and we don’t want to make them feel like they have to,” he said, suggesting that some, like those who teach art, may prefer to have students complete a final project or painting.

But Carrsville District representative Jackie Carr raised the issue that the term “culminating activity” could also refer to a semester-long project or research paper. If that were the case, a teacher would have no way to determine who would be exempt at the start of the semester when the project began.

The two have totally different purposes,” Carr said, and suggested that instead the board change the policy to allow teachers to either give an exam with some students exempt or give a culminating activity where no one is exempt.

Currently, the division’s final exam exemption policy applies to students who have a cumulative course average of 93-100 and five or fewer absences per semester or 10 per year, a course average of 87-92 with three or fewer absences or six per year, take and pass an industry certification test or take and pass an end-of-year SOL test. Students who take and pass a College Board advanced placement exam are currently not exempt from final exam requirements but may substitute a final project or mock AP exam for their final grades, provided they have no more than five unexcused absences per semester or 10 per year.

Since the board took no action to change that policy, it will remain in effect throughout the 2017-2018 school year. The division plans to obtain feedback from parents and teachers during the spring semester on potential changes the division could make to that policy, which, if approved, would take effect at the beginning of the 2018-2019 school year.

In other business, Marty Callendar, the division’s director of support services, announced that the cosmetology lab at Windsor High School opened on Monday, and that the school’s greenhouse, while somewhat behind schedule, is starting to take shape. He added that the division also recently purchased a “buddy seat” tractor, which functions like a driver-education car where students have complete control over the vehicle’s functions but an instructor can be present with them. This purchase cost $40,350 and was made with funds from the county Board of Supervisor’s $7.9 million career and technical education loan issued last year.

Callendar also announced the bids the division received for Windsor and Carrsville Elementary’s roof replacements. Windsor’s was was $597,600 from Air Tech Solutions. Carrsville’s was $374,725 from USA Construction. Money for each had been set aside in the county’s capital improvement plan and the school board approved all bids unanimously.

The board also received an update on special education, during which they learned that the state had identified IWCS as having a significant discrepancy in the rate of suspension and expulsion for special education students greater than 10 cumulative days.

This was based on data from the 2015-2016 school year,” explained Lynn Briggs, the division’s director of gifted services, community and media relations. “As a result of this data, we had to conduct a self-assessment and review our policy, procedures and practices on the development of IEPs, the use of positive behavior intervention and supports, and procedural safeguards.”

As a result, the Stop and Think program is now being used by all special education teachers. The program focuses on teaching students interpersonal, problem-solving, and conflict-resolution skills in a developmentally-sensitive way.

Another program, STAR (Strategies for Teaching based on Autism Research), is now being used in the division’s self-contained autism classes, intellectual disability classes and early childhood special education program. The STAR curriculum focuses on receptive and expressive language, functional routines, social skills and academics to increase desired behaviors and decrease challenging behaviors.

Sixty-one percent of the time, our special education teachers have been co-teaching, where there is a general education teacher and a special education teacher in the same classroom with all students getting the same lesson,” said Thomas Chelgren, the division’s director of special education.

He added that the most current research shows co-teaching is no longer considered a best practice and that resource classroom settings where special education students are segregated from the school’s general population, or keeping special education students in the same classrooms as others but providing them with specially designed instruction to meet their individual needs is more effective.