Many seniors may be taking fewer final exams next year at Riverside-Brookfield High School.

Last week the District 208 school board voted 4 to 3 to approve a new policy on a one-year trial basis that will allow all RBHS students who meet or exceed state standards on this month’s Prairie State Achievement Exam (PSAE) to skip a final exam in that subject area next year.

All Illinois high school juniors take the PSAE which consist of taking the ACT exam on the first day of testing and a second day of additional testing.

RBHS administrators have been concerned that some students were slacking off on the second day of testing after finishing with the ACT. The second day of testing has little personal impact for students, but has a big impact on the school.

The results of subject-area testing on the second day determine whether the school makes adequate yearly progress according to federal No Child Left Behind (NCLB) law.

“The second day doesn’t have much meaning for them,” said RB Principal Pamela Bylsma, explaining the purpose of the policy to the school board. “[The purpose of the policy is] to make the second day more meaningful for students. … It was an idea we’ve seen other schools doing. This is another way to reward them for staying attentive.”

Voting for the new policy were Larry Herbst, Sue Kleinmeyer, MariAnn Leibrandt and Dan Moon. Voting against the policy were board President James Marciniak, Matt Sinde and Mike Welch.

Based on figures from last year’s PSAE, as many as 75 percent of RBHS seniors could get out of taking a math final exam next year, 74 percent of seniors would not have to take a final exam in a science class and 63 percent could waive a final exam in English.

Already, RB seniors who are getting an A in a non Advanced Placement class or a B in an AP class don’t have to take a final exam in that class.

All final exam exemptions are nullified if a student accumulates more than two unexcused absences from a class in a semester.

Those voting against the policy complained that some seniors might not have to take any final exams and said that students would not be well-prepared for college when final exams often count for a large portion of one’s grade in a class.

“It’s going to be 18 months before they see another final,” Sinde said. “We’re bribing kids to do good on state tests. I have a problem with that. What kind of message do we send to the community by doing this?”

District 208 Interim Superintendent David Bonnette took issue with word “bribe,” preferring another word.

“PSAE is the high-stakes test for the district in terms of making adequate yearly progress, and so if this is a means by which we can incentivize, not bribe, but incentivize kids to do their best, then that’s the motivation,” Bonnette said.

Bonnette said that the new policy would increase the likelihood of RBHS making adequate yearly progress under NCLB

Kleinmeyer noted that RBHS has in the past had offered various inducements to students if the school did well on standardized tests, including taking seniors to Great America on a school day as a reward for raising the school’s average ACT score.

“Incentives exist for a lot reasons and for a lot of different things,” Kleinmeyer said.

Marciniak said that he thought the policy would have little impact on whether RBHS makes adequate yearly progress and pointed out that state tests don’t determine the worth of education at RBHS.

“This is handing out a reward for something over which we really have no control,” Marciniak said. “It’s the state’s measure of what we do here; it’s not our measure of success teaching these students.”

Marciniak said that the policy illustrates the lengths that schools will go to meet the demands of the federal standards and said that the policy would likely have very little impact on RBHS’s test results.

“This is really getting to the core of why No Child Left Behind is ridiculous,” Marciniak said.

The policy was initially presented as permanent policy change, but upon hearing doubts from board members it was decided to vote on adopting the policy on a one-year trial basis.

That change was enough to get the vote of Moon.

“One a one-year trial basis, I was OK with it,” said Moon after the vote.