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City schools end final exams Course work to determine grades

Final exams -- for decades a make-or-break grading tool -- have been eliminatjed by the Buffalo Public Schools.

Effective immediately, final grades for city students will be determined instead by course work during the year, along with alternative means such as portfolios of their work, research papers or oral presentations. Students also will continue to take required Regents exams.

Under the new Buffalo grading standards, students will pass a course only if they receive a final average of 65 on course work and a grade of at least 65 on the corresponding Regents exam.

A final average of at least 65 is required in courses that do not include Regents exams.

But district-generated examinations in English, math, social studies, science, foreign language, art and music -- given in various combinations in grades 3 to 12 -- have been dropped.

"We are eliminating the internally generated tests because they are not scientifically based and, in my view, are not aligned with state standards," School Superintendent James A. Williams said.

Final exams were not providing a true measure of student performance, Williams said. He cited, for example, large numbers of students who met eighth-grade graduation requirements but were not ready for high school work.

"We will no longer be moving youngsters who are not at grade level," Williams said. "It's a major shift. It's a culture change."

Schools also will continue to monitor pupil progress through state-mandated assessment tests and other optional assessment tests that aren't factored into grades, said Constance M. Moss, an assistant Buffalo superintendent.

Previously, students could pass a course by earning a blended average of 65 on course work combined with a final exam score, or by simply earning a score of 65 on the exam.

An appeals process will be established for students who score 62, 63 or 64 on their Regents exams, Moss said.

Until this year, Buffalo allowed students to pass Regents exams with a grade of 55.

While the elimination of final exams is a dramatic development in Buffalo, many other local school districts have long relied less heavily on them, said Margaret Jones-Carey, associate superintendent for instruction for the Erie 1 Board of Cooperative Educational Services.

Where final exams are used, they are far more common in high schools than in the lower grades.

"The high school level is where you struggle the most with giving them up," Jones-Carey said.

Many educators are cool toward final exams, she added.

"A moment in time isn't the best indication of what a child knows," she said.

Buffalo Teachers Federation President Philip Rumore said the elimination of final exams is "a small step in the right direction," but that the district should also cut back dramatically on assessment testing.

e-mail: psimon@buffnews.com

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