Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Alternative Attendance Measure in Instruction

Reducing cuts is important. However, contacting parents or student for excuses after a student's return makes less sense now than in the past.

Before a PLC (Professional Learning Community) emphasis, teachers would issue zeros for missing work if students cut. The reward for bad behavior was no work, followed by more poor behavior because students quickly realize that zero's force them to fail in a standard 0-100 point system, which creates more hassle and costs for the school system as a whole and dropouts. Now, students must complete their work: attendance is irrelevant for grading, but vital for learning. More subtlely, the joy of being sick goes away to the student. This approach has been used successfully in summer school for years: excuses are irrelevant. The metric that matters is attendance, not the reason. The three-days-to-change-a-cut rule remains somewhat useful for awards, but no reminders to students and parents to clear a cut need or should be made. Getting students to school is the issue, not asking them or parents for an excuse when they arrive or afterwards.

Furthermore, sadly, there is a correlation between poor attendance and disruptive behavior. Since students can be transferred at no, or little charge, to a County ACCESS High School after four full days of cuts, it actually behooves schools and the majority of students within them to have absences marked as cuts. It gives schools more flexibility in dealing with, frankly, dangerous students.  Reminding returned students or requiring excuses before students return to school is self-defeating and wasteful of everyone's time. It's merely going through the motions of improving attendance.

In short, attendance is the only issue. Excuses are irrelevant. Higher attendance does not result by administratively pressuring ourselves to reduce the number of marked cuts. The enemy to learning isn't cuts, but excused absences! Working this number down would have positive effects.

Possible Metric

a. ID the number of First Period Absences in last semester as a baseline.
b. ID the number of Full Day Absences in last semester as a baseline.
c. Record the number of First Period Absences and Full Day Absences this semester.
d. An increase in First Period, but a decrease in Full Day means a real system improvement has occurred.
e. Decrease/Increase in all absences is the obvious main statistic.
f. Trend the two numbers above and single period skips.

3 comments:

OrangeMath said...

This comment was written by another person.

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Interesting thoughts, I believe we all agree that time in class is the optimum for all students, however:

1. From a legal (probation involvement) standpoint, cuts and unexcused absences are all we can pursue.

2. While I do agree that attendance is irrelevant in grading, I "do not" concur that it is always relevant in learning - - we all learn in many varied venues as CRC as shown through computerized programs and test-outs.

3. ACCESS is not an alternative we like to use and behooves no one especially our students.

4. We are not "pressuring ourselves to reduce the number of marked cuts" but to reduce the number of students cutting class!

I personally believe grading should be strictly based on knowledge of the subject matter - - not on attendance or behavior.

OrangeMath said...

This comment was written by another person.

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To battle the excuse of "I'm getting a good grade, why do I have to come?" I instituted a policy of earning a credit for 12 succesful days of attendance and a loss of one credit per 12 days of absence. Miracle. Students are now in charge of their attendance. This policy applies to excused, ill, cut, or whatever; if you are gone you are gone and not able to work in class regardless of what your mom says you are simply not there. Simple and to the point. If you are ill or stoned it deosn't mtter. What matters is that you are in class. Second strand, no D's are issued. 70 % completed or no grade no credit. Has it made students out of the little darlings, NO, but we are closer to equity: Us Vs. Them. I think we are ahead. No stress. Black and white. The box has to be very small and very well defined. But, you already knew that.

Take it a step farther. Teach all day and give them credit for the classes they choose to attend. It would work. It might take a whole year but put it on them. These are young adults and they would step up and perhaps be a little bit proud of what they were accomplishing.

OrangeMath said...

Thank you for the two previous comments.
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1. No law prevents a school from rewarding positive attendance or asking for doctor's excuses, etc. I'm not an expert on getting students to school, but offering tastier food for good attendance might help. It's a matter of trying ideas and asking what works. Making non-attendance uncomfortable is the point.

2. Attendance correlates with time on task - a key metric for learning. Efficient use of time is another, but NO TIME is not acceptable.

3. ACCESS deals with our real world. It suits a few students where comprehensive or alternative schools are not a good fit. I just don't like spending our dollars on it.

4. It best to design systems that don't have disincentives to them. The current system encourages students and parents to lie and our staff to accept those responses as OK or understandable. Please don't respond by stressing the high integrity of the staff - that's not the point, nor the issue. It's a matter of focusing on the wrong thing - increasing attendance, not identifing excused vs cuts is the measure that will correlate with increased learning and, we hope, higher API.

Consider the CAHSEE and STAR. We do everything we can to get attendance. Cuts and illnesses are the same!

Consider continuation schools, which include attendance in credit issuance (not a good policy for a comprehensive school - but a possible intervention). Excuses are irrelevant.