Last summer, the Board of Trustees began analyzing district data in effort to develop what is now the District Strategic Plan. The focus of the District Strategic Plan is to improve student achievement, and as such the variables that affect student performance were incorporated into both the data evaluation process and the accountability component of our strategic plan.
One of the variables with the greatest correlation to student performance is attendance. While much research has been done on this topic, you don’t need to do a in-depth statistical analysis to know that kids need to be in school on a consistent basis to learn.
Our district faces three distinct challenges when it comes to student attendance. The first is student absences that result from activities. Our district offers a large variety of activities for students at the middle school and high school. This, in conjunction with the travel distances inherent in Wyoming, creates significant challenges for active students. By way of illustration, the absentee rate resulting from activities for one of our high school Geometry classes was nearly 33% during the month of April. Many school districts in Western Wyoming have adopted alternative calendars in an attempt to reduce the impact of activities travel. While this issue is not addressed in the new attendance policy, we are currently evaluating alternative calendar options for future use.
The second challenge is unexcused absences. While we are fortunate that this issue pertains to a very small percentage of our students, it is an issue nonetheless. The new attendance policy has been aligned with the Wyoming State Statutes that deal with truancy. Per Wyoming Statute 21-4-107, the board of trustees is required to notify the County Attorney of any student who is determined to be habitually truant. Habitually truant is statutorily defined as any student with five or more unexcused absences in any one school year. The new policy and its associated regulation address unexcused absences through parent/guardian notification, progressive discipline, meetings with the building principal or an attendance review committee, and referral to the County Attorney if necessary.
The third challenge is excused absences. Excused absences are those absences in which a student is absent due to illness, bereavement, family emergency, etc. Student activity absences are not included in this count. Our past policy did not set a limit on those absences nor did it include direction for parents regarding reporting absences. It also did not provide a mechanism for the school to inform parents/guardians regarding how many days their student had missed. The new policy addresses these issues and limits excused absences to 10 per semester. Absences beyond the 10 per semester limit may result in but is not limited to one of the following, however this will be evaluated on a case by case basis:
- Unexcused absence.
- Attendance contract.
- Requirement of appropriate documentation for future absences.
- Loss of academic credit.
- Referral to the County Attorney and/or Department of Family Services.
While I have taken the opportunity to express my views on education accountability in previous posts on this blog, there’s no denying the fact that it’s here to stay. And if we have to be accountable for the progress of our students, we’re going to have to ensure our parents are accountable for student attendance. Welcome to trickle-down accountability.
While the primary goal of the new attendance policy is to ensure that we maximize the learning time for students in an effort to improve performance, we also want to provide flexibility to our families and a common sense approach. I believe this policy does just that.
You can access the new attendance policy and regulation below. The regulation contains the information on procedures that most parents will want to see. If you have questions regarding the new policy and regulation, please feel free to email me or comment on this post. I will do my best to answer your questions as promptly as possible. You can also hear a discussion regarding the attendance policy that occurred during my monthly radio interview on KPIN. You can download or listen to that broadcast by clicking on the link in the upper right hand corner of this page dated 5-17-2011.