Focus on all absences when targeting students for help, expert says
The Pasco County School Board in recent months has drawn clear distinctions between excused and unexcused absences when setting its student conduct policies.
Board members have given school principals more leeway in taking away privileges for children with too many unexcused absences. They meanwhile killed an administration proposal to allow students more freedom to make up work missed during an unexcused absence.
Students are allowed to do the work from excused days missed.
Hedy Nai-Lin Chang, a national leader on attendance policy, told the Gradebook that the board's approach unnecessarily punishes children.
Schools can and should deal with students' absenteeism in other ways than taking it out on their academics, which might already be suffering, Chang said during a national Education Writers Association conference in Boston.
She suggested a more encompassing approach to reducing all absences, not just one type, with a goal of ensuring that all children have an equal opportunity to learn.
"Attendance is important because it leads to achievement," Chang said.
Pasco County schools have adopted some of the initiatives that she advocates, such as creating early warning systems to determine if children are missing too much school, and using increasingly focused interventions for those who appear the most at risk.
Chang said school and district leaders must focus on uncovering the reasons for absences. There could be community barriers such as transportation limits, for instance, school concerns such as ineffective discipline, or even classroom problems such as poor instruction.
Then schools must identify appropriate answers to the issues. They can establish easy to understand campaigns, such as the Grand Rapids, Mich., Strive for Less than Five effort, and create mentoring programs where adults and peers work with individual students to help them find meaning in attending.
Pasco officials continue to seek local solutions.