‘Engage’ kids: Improve attendance

Students typically don’t decide to drop out of school overnight.

And, there’s typically more to the story, when a student starts missing school on a regular basis.

At least those were a couple points of discussion last week during a Pasco County School Board workshop on the topic of school attendance.

Pasco County School Board vice chairwoman Colleen Beaudoin said students may be able to make up the work or tests they missed when they are out, but they also miss out on valuable learning opportunities and interactions with their peers. (File)

“Attendance is really a symptom of something else that is happening with our students,” said Angel Hernandez, senior supervisor of student support programs and services for the district.

Pasco County has been working to define what on-track, at-risk and off-track means, in terms of attendance, behavior, academic performance and discipline. In high school, the measures include GPA and progress of meeting graduation requirements.

The reasons students miss school can vary from being ill, to being on vacation, to choosing not to be there because they are disengaged, Hernandez told school board members.

“Disengagement is preceded by other things,” he said, which can range from poor academic performance, to mental health or other issues.

Some kids don’t want to be at school, Hernandez said. They say things like, “I don’t feel welcome at my school. I’m not being treated nicely.”

Not being at school has consequences, he added.

“We know the reality is that when our students are not in school, they are not engaged in school, and when they’re disengaged, they fall short of meeting that goal and graduating, and achieving success once they leave our system,” he said.

The district can track attendance through data, which allows it to make a closer analysis.

It can break down the data by grade level, demographic group and day, week or month.

Overall, 38,500 Pasco students were on track for the year in attendance, while 24,200 were at risk and 12,400 were off-track, Hernandez said.

The data reveals that there are no demographic groups that appear to be at greater risk than others, Hernandez said. “They’re all within the 90s,” he said.

He also noted that sixth grade has the highest attendance rating.

When the district looks at its attendance rates, it’s not just looking at unexcused absences, but excused absences, too.

School Board member Cynthia Armstrong, a former teacher, voiced concerns about the growing number of children missing school for family vacations.

“Parents would never think, in the past, about taking their kids out for a cruise just because they could get the cruise cheaper during the school year. That seems to be just a growing trend,” Armstrong said.

Pasco County School Board member Cynthia Armstrong said she’s noticed of a trend in recent years of more parents taking their children out of school for family vacations.

She asked: “How are we stressing to parents that attendance is important?”

A change to the district’s code of conduct allows students to make up any and all assignments, tests or related work of any excused or unexcused absence at full credit.

But, even when students can make up the credit, they’re still losing out, said School Board vice chairwoman Colleen Beaudoin.

“Even if they can show up later and make up the test, they’re missing learning opportunities. They’re missing the chance to interact with their peers, and they’re missing the group work, the projects,” Beaudoin said.

School Board chairwoman Alison Crumbley wondered what the district does to address the kids who are there, but are just not understanding the content.

Hernandez said efforts are being made to give students quizzes to help check how they’re doing, so extra help can be offered to help them catch up before the end of the course, when it’s too late.

Hernandez also noted that some schools have dances or other celebrations to encourage good attendance.

Along those lines, School Board member Megan Harding said it’s important for schools to be consistent.

She recalled students being excited about the prospect of attending a quarterly dance party.

“They didn’t make it the first quarter, but the second quarter came and there was no dance party; the third quarter came, and there was no dance party.

“There was no consistency,” Harding said.

“Is there going to be some consistency or accountability within our schools?” Harding asked. “Those little ones they really do want that dance party.”

Hernandez said it takes a team effort to tackle the issue.

“It used to be that this work happened through the lens of social work,” he said. “We’re trying to break away from that, as we build a compassionate schools frame for our sites, we want all of our other members to engage.”

Superintendent Kurt Browning said parents need to hear from the district level — not just the school level — about the importance of attendance.

He said he expects increased efforts to reach out to parents, through newsletters and periodic phone calls to emphasize how important it is for children to be in school.

The district has an obligation to make school engaging and to set high standards, and to help students to understand there’s a connection between being in school and being successful in life, Browning said.

Attendance by grade level
Pre-kindergarten: 88.1 percent

First grade : 93.7 percent

Second grade: 94.6 percent

Third grade: 94.8 percent

Fourth grade: 94.7 percent

Fifth grade:  94.8 percent

Sixth grade: 95.4 percent

Seventh grade: 94.9 percent

Eighth grade:  94.4 percent

Ninth grade:  94.8 percent

10th grade:  93.9 percent

11th grade:  93.3 percent

12th grade:  91.2 percent

Source: Pasco County Schools

Ways to combat school absenteeism

  • Recognize good and improved attendance
  • Engage parents and students
  • Provide personalized early outreach
  • Monitor attendance data and practice
  • Develop programmatic responses to barriers

Source: Pasco County Schools

Published August 07, 2019

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