Friday, October 13, 2006

Absences: Do you think this will work?

Absences drive me crazy, so I sympathize with any school that is trying to do something about it, but I have my doubts about Buffalo's approach.

Offering a controversial incentive to boost student attendance, the Buffalo
Board of Education voted, 5-4, Wednesday evening to base 10 percent of every
report card grade strictly on how often individual students attend school.

The close vote reflected deep philosophical differences. Supporters of the measure described it as an appropriate way to improve poor attendance rates and emphasize the importance of being in school. Opponents said it offers rewards to students for doing what they should be doing anyway. "To me it's almost bribing children to come to school," said Park District board member Jack Coyle, who voted against the measure. "That's a grave, grave concern to me. I refuse to do that."

North District member Donald A. Van Every, who supported the resolution, said that last school year nearly 80 percent of Buffalo's students were absent six times or more. "I can understand the kid saying to his Mom and Dad: "I need to do this [go to school] because it will help me with my grade,' " Van Every said. "If this small token helps do that, we're on the road."

Beginning next month, students with perfect attendance during a 10-week marking period will receive 10 of a possible 10 points on their report card grades. Eight of ten points will be awarded to students with one or two unexcused absences, while students with three or four such absences will earn six points. Students with five or more unexcused absences will receive none of the 10 points, meaning the highest report card grade they can earn is 90. When the policy was first proposed in May, absences would have counted against students even if they were sick.

The new policy, hammered out after five months of negotiations, provides excused absences for illness, death or illness in the family, impassable roads, religious education, required court appearances or incarceration, approved field trips, college visits, suspensions and several other reasons. Those excused absences will not reduce student grades.

Things might well be different in Buffalo, but this policy would fail miserably in my school. It is not the unexcused absences that drive me crazy; it's those "several other reasons." My own personal favorites are "out of town," "parent request," and "needed at home." Yes, I know that all of these reasons can be legitimate, but when you see them from the same kids week after week, they tend to get a little old. The sad fact is that we have some parents who are willing to sign excuses for their kids for just about anything. And it's not just the parents. A respected businessman in a neighboring community urged his teen-aged employees to skip their afternoon classes because his drive-in was "really busy." I actually have some respect for the kids who come in with an absent slip that just says "skipped" because at least they are being honest. It's the lying and the milking of the legitimate absences for every day that they are possibly worth that have turned my hair so gray.

I wish the Buffalo schools luck, but I'm afraid that all they are going to do is to teach kids and parents in their school district to become better at lying.


Blogger elementaryhistoryteacher said...

Unfortunately NCLB leaves school systems no choice but to get a handle on students who skip.

We have had several revamps of our policy in our system. We have problems at the elementary level simply because some parents feel that "it's just elementary school...they can just make up the worksheet or whatever." Problem is they are missing the actual instruction.

Parents don't and won't take attendance seriously unless the system has a policy and unless family court judges work hand in hand to help with the enforcement of the policy.

I'm not sure if the attendance/participation type grades will help to curb the problem. I'm sure there are some highschool students who like my elementary age kids are at the mercy of their caregivers (dare I say parents).

I'm not up on data regarding this problem. It just seems to me there should be a strict policy in place regarding what constitutes a legal absence and what doesn't. Then enforce it to the nth degree. Many Georgia school districts are doing this and they are seeing improvement.

10/13/2006 2:59 PM  
Blogger graycie said...

Seems to me that if a kid misses class, he/she misses learning -- right? So tying grades to attendance is also legit. If a kid makes up the learning, he/she should be able to make up the grade as well.

10/14/2006 7:33 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The trend I've noticed is the kids who skip with unexcused absences aren't really the ones who care about their grades. This is simply going to ultimately encourage student apathy and drop-out. The student will simply say, "I'm not going to school, and since I can't pass, I might as well drop out." There has to be a better way. Not sure what it is.

But, Dennis, I tend to agree with you. I respect the student much more who comes in with an unexcused "skipping" slip than the kid whose mom or dad calls him in every other day. (Not to mention those parents who take their kid on vacation for several school weeks...or the parents who simply don't bother to make certain their child goes to school in the morning.) Give me a skipper any day. At least I know where he stands.

10/14/2006 9:03 AM  
Anonymous Ian H. said...

I'm with you - I had a student inform me this past week that she will be missing one of the two weeks of school after the Christmas break, before exams. The reason? Her mom is taking her to Jamaica starting the weekend before school gets back. We have two full weeks off for Christmas this year... why couldn't this parent schedule the trip during the time off instead of adding an extra week of holidays at the end? Fortunately, I have a gigantic reading package that I can photocopy for this student...

It's not just parents, though - our school runs a travel club every year over the Easter break and the student participants generally miss one extra day at the beginning of the break and 2-3 days at the end of the break. We're supposed to have them make up the work that they miss on one hand, but it is generally encouraged to let these students have a bye for the days they miss.

And what do students take away from this? I coach the Sr Boys' Soccer team at the school, and if we have a game at 4:00 in the afternoon, the students ask me to have them released from the last class of the day. School ends at 3:10. The soccer pitch is adjacent to the school. But these students have so little respect for the time they spend in class that it's okay to them to miss an hour for the very smallest of reasons.

10/14/2006 12:17 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I've seen this exact thing. It makes me crazy. I actually had a parent call and ask if I could get rid of the assigned reading for Christmas break because her son was going on a family vacation. Needless to say, I told her absolutely not.

10/15/2006 6:55 PM  
Anonymous Lilith said...

what worked the best at my daughter's school was if they had 5 or fewer absences from a class for the year they were exempted from final exams. I stuffed tired, sniffly and cranky daughters on board the bus many mornings, at their request, so they could miss those final exams. when the school changed their policy, absences soared. Who knew?

10/16/2006 3:33 PM  

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