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Post-holiday exams may be on calendar
Hillsborough schools will consider the plan for 2009-10. It's not expected to be popular.
By LETITIA STEIN, Times Staff Writer
Published November 9, 2007
TAMPA - Exams before winter break are hugely popular, but Hillsborough schools may have to move first semester exams back until after the holidays in 2009-10.
The alternative would shortchange learning time for students, a committee of parents, teachers and administrators decided Thursday.
To squeeze exams in that year, winter break couldn't start until Dec. 24. The semesters also would be unbalanced, with 82 days in the first and 100 in the second.
The calendar recommendation won't be popular. Repeated requests from students is the reason the Hillsborough School Board moved first semester exams to before winter break a decade ago.
"As a student, I can tell you right now that a lot of students are going to have problems with this," Jefferson High School senior SaraKey told the committee. "After you've been away for two weeks - partying, Christmas - your mind is going to be somewhere else."
In recent years, Hillsborough has not been able to get away from controversy on its student calendar. Most of the attention has focused on the days off school that coincided with major Jewish and Christian holidays. This year, Hillsborough adopted a secular calendar.
Calendar committee members propose to continue without religious holidays. But they lamented that their hands are tied on the concerns over first semester exams. Under a new state law, public schools can start no earlier than two weeks before Labor Day.
In 2009, Aug. 24 is the earliest Hillsborough can start, four days later than this year's start date.
School officials worried about trying to squeeze 82 days, the bare minimum for a full semester, into an instruction calendar that didn't break for winter holidays until Christmas Eve.
"I know there have been issues with students wanting to take exams," said Leigh Crosson, a teacher at Bevis Elementary. "But they won't want to if they're not prepared."
Instead, the committee recommended giving students additional class time before a winter holiday that would begin Dec. 21, 2009. Students would take exams after a week of class review time in January.
"It won't be as bad," said Sara, the Jefferson student, after hearing about plans for some review time. "If it has to be, it has to be."
Not everyone agreed. In a survey of parents and employees last year, more than 80 percent wanted the first semester to end before the winter holiday.
Teachers union representative Chuck Kiker hasn't heard them asking for change.
"Our teachers for many years have elected to end first semester before winter break," said Kiker, director of government relations for the Hillsborough Classroom Teachers Association.
The group is not recommending major changes to next year's student calendar, which would be modeled after the current one with exams before winter break. Like this year's, it does not recognize religious holidays, although Good Friday and the Jewish holiday of Passover fall during spring break.
Proposals for 2009-10 are tentative. Superintendent MaryEllen Elia will consider the committee's recommendation before bringing 2008-09 and 2009-10 calendars to the School Board, which has the final say.
Letitia Stein can be reached at email@example.com or 813 226-3400. For more education news, visit The Gradebook at blogs.tampabay.com/schools.