JONESBORO — Some students who attend schools in Craighead County may be breathing a sigh of relief this fall as several districts are considering eliminating semester tests or have already eliminated them for the first semester.

Valley View Curriculum Director Roland Popejoy said eliminating semester tests is something administrators have been considering for quite some time.

“The second nine weeks doesn’t end until January,” Popejoy said, noting this is also something new this year. “Unlike other times, where the semester ends at Christmas break, now it goes until Jan. 15.”

Schools had to adjust their calendars when Gov. Asa Hutchinson ordered Arkansas schools to begin two weeks later than normal due to the pandemic, which has forced the vast majority of districts to make necessary adjustments.

Popejoy said the main reason the district is considering eliminating semester tests is because test results would not be an accurate reflection of what students have learned. He said that’s mainly because students have had to transition back and forth between a traditional classroom setting a virtual one.

Mandatory quarantines resulting from COVID-19 exposure, positive COVID-19 tests, and school shutdowns due to the virus have caused students to have to transition back and forth.

“If (students) were (attending school) in person the whole time or all virtual the whole time, this would not be a discussion,” Popejoy said. “To provide them with a comprehensive assessment that counts for 20 percent of their total grade just isn’t fair.”

If the district does opt to give a final semester exam, Popejoy said it will only enhance the students’ grades, not count against them.

Westside Consolidated School District has also exempted students from first semester exams. School board members approved the measure during Monday night’s school board meeting. Superintendent Scott Gauntt said district educators have been considering it for several months.

“The problem we have is some kids are on campus and some kids are off campus,” he said. “How do you ensure the kids at home have the same resources as the kids on campus?”

Another challenge the district faced is starting school two weeks late due to a statewide mandate.

“We would have the students gone for two weeks, then we would be asking them to test when they come back (from a two-week break),” Gauntt said. “Students are still being tested on the material. The district is simply exempting them from a comprehensive exam. Normally, the first semester exams are required and students then have the option to earn an opt-out for the second-semester tests.”

Gaunt said no decision has been made on the second-semester tests.

“We are taking it day by day,” he said.

Officials at The Academies at Jonesboro High School said they are also doing away with semester tests this year.

Dr. Brad Faught, executive principal at The Academies, said the district decided to do away with semester tests for the first time in a long time.

“What I have found is very rarely are semester exams a cumulative test anyway; most of the time it is just the next chapter exam,” he said. “We had this discussion last spring and have talked about it on and off for a year.”

One district opted to stick with tradition, despite the current challenges presented by a global pandemic. Nettleton School District’s Curriculum Director Lacy Baker said as of now, the district is moving forward with semester tests, with one change.

“Typically they occur at the end of the semester,” Baker said. “This year, the end of the semester does not occur until students return from Christmas break.”