Semester Finals

Opting Out, Grade Weighting, and Timing

Opt Outs

For many years, students at Valley High School have had the option to omit any two semester finals as long as they had no unexcused absences, and no more than 6 excused absences. These opt outs served as attendance incentives for students who did not want to take 8 grade-determining tests. At the start of the 2015-2016 school year, the West Des Moines Community School District Administration made an executive decision regarding the Final Exam Opt Out Policies.


Due to parents forgetting to call in their child's excused absences, many families in the district felt that students were being punished for their parents' negligence. This resulted the Administration removing all opt outs for Sophomores and Juniors. Seniors, however, can waive any and all second semester tests if they have a B or above in the class.


According to Valley Administrators, final exams will be reviewed to combat a feeling of punishment among students and to prevent grades from suffering due to finals.

Grade Weighting

Different classes at Valley have different scales regarding how heavily final exams affect students' semester grades. Math classes, for example, are all weighted at 10% while foreign language finals vary on both the language and the level of the class. This means that students can devote less studying to classes where finals aren't worth as much. Finals that are only worth 10% allow students to get D's and F's on their finals and still end with an A in the class.


AP Classes are different still due to their increased difficulty. If a student chooses to take the AP Exam in May for their advanced class, their final grade is evaluated on a 5.0 scale: a final grade of a B is equivalent to a 4.0 GPA, an F results in a 1.0 GPA, and an A is equivalent to a 5.0. This allows students who take numerous AP Classes to earn GPA's much higher than a 4.0.

Final Exam Timing

During the last few school years, the WDMCSD has experimented with the timing of finals around Winter Break; the tests have been before and after the 2-week holiday with varying success. In the past, when the finals have been before Winter Break, the attendance requirements continued to be in effect for the remainder of first semester, a week after students return. This didn't work very well, but it better emulates the set up of semester finals in colleges.


During the summer of 2015, Governor Terry Brandstad signed a bill mandating that schools cannot start earlier than August 23rd, or the end of the Iowa State Fair. This affects the end of the semester in regards to Winter Break. During the 2015-2016 school year, finals will fall after Winter Break, at the true end of the semester. This gives students more time to study over the break, should they choose to.

Pass/Fail and Audit Course Options

Pass/Fail courses give students a unique and beneficial academic opportunity. Many students are not strong in every class, many struggle greatly in in one or more subjects. The Pass/Fail option avoids discrimination based on grade by issuing a pass or fail on the student's transcript rather than a more specific letter grade which can hurt GPA's. Taking a class for a Pass/Fail allows students to be proud that they passed a class as opposed to dwelling on a low letter grade.


Additionally, students have the option to audit their courses. This allows them to experience the class without needing to take the final exam, along with all the other benefits of Pass/Fail courses. However, auditing a class means that the class counts for no credit towards the student's GPA.