Ice storm put college exams on hold for many students

Posted Thursday, Dec. 12, 2013  comments  Print Reprints
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A push to make final exams available on online at the University of North Texas emerged this week as ice continued to melt and students began taking their exams.

More than 8,000 people signed a petition urging UNT President V. Lane Rawlins to make UNT finals available online. The petition, posted on change.org, drew comments from students critical of university plans to reschedule tests.

“Safey of students and faculty is more important than taking a silly test,” wrote Jessica Scriven on the petition. “Either post the exams online or cancel them. But you can’t fit all the exams in two days — it’s too much for the students AND the faculty to handle.”

Winter break doesn’t start for college students until the last test is taken, but just exactly when that will be changed a bit with the recent cold blast that coated roadways with a blanket of ice, forcing North Texas universities to close or delay start times. Students saw their exam schedules change overnight, creating a whole new level of anxiety.

UNT students are taking tests Thursday, Friday and Saturday.

UNT was closed from 1 p.m. Dec. 5 and didn’t reopen until noon Wednesday. University leaders continued to alert students Wednesday about test schedules. But the petition and concerns swelled, said Warren Burggren, the university’s provost and vice president for academic affairs.

Burggren said he answered 185 emails Wednesday from faculty, staff, students and parents who were concerned about final exams in the wake of the ice storm.

Burggren said that while students live in an electronic world, a last-minute shift of all finals online for a campus of 36,000 students is not feasible.

“We just could not pull that together,” he said, adding that they are trying to make best choices amid unprecedented winter weather.

“This has been a situation of having to make the best choice among a series of bad options,” Burggren said, adding that some ideas were to move the exams next week or into January.

The university is also concerned about identity verification of online test takers.

Burggren issued a list of options faculty could use in handling finals and final grades. The list included online tests if a professor is experienced with the processes or had already planned to offer online tests.

The ice continues to melt and roadways become passable, students are finally taking their finals and figuring out when they can go home for the holidays.

“I’m happy to be done with finals and ice,” said Erin Bullard, a third year student at the Texas A&M University School of Law in Fort Worth.

Temperatures climbed to 39 on Wednesday and are expected to hit 42 on Thursday, but forecasters say drivers need to remain cautious because of icy spots on the bridges and overpasses, especially on the morning commutes and after dark.

“We certainly haven’t blasted all of the ice yet,” said meteorologist Tom Bradshaw with the National Weather Service in Fort Worth. “You can’t get lulled into a sense of false complacency. We have to keep our eyes open until we get rid of all this stuff.”

Staying ahead of the storm

The cold front moved into North Texas a week ago, and a steady stream of sleet left roadways and sidewalks slick. On Saturday, many freshmen and sophomore students at the University of Texas at Arlington were supposed to take math exams.

That didn’t happen because of “the unpredictable Texas weather,” said Jianzhong Su, department chair of mathematics at UTA. “Fortunately, we were prepared.”

Su said those math exams were rescheduled for some 4,000 to 5,000 students.

Su said they started making contingency plans on Dec. 4, before the storm hit.

“So far things are running very smoothly,” Su said. “There are very few conflicts.”

After being closed due to weather for four days, UTA resumed normal schedules on Tuesday. Exams that were originally set for Monday were moved to Dec. 16 at the same times and locations, according to school officials.

UTA commencement ceremonies will be held Friday through Sunday as scheduled.

TCU used a modified exam schedule on Monday, pushing start times back three and a half hours and returned to a normal schedule on Tuesday.

Officials at all of the local universities used emails, text messages, websites, social media and traditional media to alerts students that campuses were closed and tests were rescheduled.

Putting students first

Barbi Fowler, an English lecturer at TCC and UTA, said faculty worked to accommodate student needs after the storm — including travel long-distance plans.

“It’s not their fault,” Fowler said. “Some people already bought tickets. Their parents are expecting them.”

Bullard, the A&M law school student, said her campus was also very helpful.

“I was late for a final today,” Bullard said. “They had a special room for students who were late due to the weather.”

Parvinder Singh, a senior at UTA, said the storm gave him more time to finish a presentation and paper.

“I’m actually pretty happy,” he said, adding that friends who crammed all weekend are upset.

Lizbeth Jimenez, a senior at UTA, said she was stuck at work during the storm and was unable to study for a test originally set for Monday. Now it has been rescheduled for Dec. 16.

“It’s only right that I make the ‘A’ now,” Jimenez said. “I’ve had the whole week now. I’m so glad this ice thing is over.”

Diane Smith, 817-390-7675 Twitter: @dianeasmith1

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