Final exams are not likely to factor into Dallas students’ fall semester grades as trustees appear poised to waive some testing requirements — the latest move by district officials to shift school norms in response to the coronavirus pandemic.

These exams, called Assessments of Course Performance, typically constitute 15% of a high school student’s semester grade and 10% for middle schoolers.

But district leaders told trustees at Thursday’s board briefing that, given students’ steep learning loss and the pressure educators are under, teachers should spend class time catching kids up rather than worrying about an assessment with the power to dramatically impact semester averages.

“Reducing the stress is definitely a high priority for us,” said Shannon Trejo, Dallas ISD’s deputy chief academic officer.

School board members will vote on the recommendation at a meeting later this month, giving schools enough time to cancel exams that are tentatively scheduled for the last week of January.

It’s likely to pass after several trustees voiced support during the briefing.

“Hallelujah,” trustee Joyce Foreman said after hearing the proposal.

“I get so much concern from teachers, parents and students regarding the number of assessments that we do,” she said, adding that the district should review how many tests are given each year.

Should the proposal pass, teachers would have the flexibility to decide whether they wanted to give a cumulative exam -- but it would be treated like a regular test, rather than carrying the weight of a traditional Assessment of Course Performance. Students’ fall semester grades would be calculated by averaging their scores in the first and second nine-week periods.

“We’re not making a recommendation to give a final or not give a final,” Trejo said. “We are understanding the need to rely on our teachers who have been on the front lines during this whole pandemic.”

Students will still be tested via other standardized exams throughout this year, providing new data on where children stand in a year full of disruption.

Assessments given at the beginning of the school year painted a grim picture following months of virtual learning: Nearly a third of Dallas ISD students lost ground in reading and half fell behind in math. That’s based on data from the Measurement of Academic Progress, or MAP, test, which will be administered again in January and February.

Education officials across the state and country are grappling with how to best measure student learning while accounting for the struggles tied to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Nearly half of the lawmakers in the Texas House last month called on state leaders to cancel the state’s standardized tests for this school year. But superintendents from several Dallas-area school districts want the State of Texas Assessment of Academic Readiness, or STAAR, tests to be administered as planned, saying a common state exam is needed to measure the depth of the COVID learning loss.

The number of ACPs administered each semester — in classes like math, language arts, science, social studies and other subjects — is already lower than in previous years.

Superintendent Michael Hinojosa in 2016 announced intentions to slash the number of assessment tests that students take by a third.

“When we looked at the number of days we actually did assessments, and not instruction, it was overwhelming,” Hinojosa said at the time. “And a lot of those were self-imposed.”

The DMN Education Lab deepens the coverage and conversation about urgent education issues critical to the future of North Texas.

The DMN Education Lab is a community-funded journalism initiative, with support from The Communities Foundation of Texas, The Meadows Foundation, The Dallas Foundation, Southern Methodist University, Todd A. Williams Family Foundation, The Beck Group, Bobby and Lottye Lyle, and the Solutions Journalism Network. The Dallas Morning News retains full editorial control of the Education Lab’s journalism.

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