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  • Writer's pictureJoanne Jacobs

To help left-behind students, get 'butts in seats'

You can't win if you don't play. The only way to improve student achievement is to

"get butts in seats," writes Jessica Grose in the New York Times.

Soaring absenteeism is the biggest issue now in education, says Elaine Allensworth, director of the UChicago Consortium on School Research. “Student attendance is an incredibly strong predictor of pretty much every outcome you care about: High school graduation, college ready, college enrollment, college graduation. It’s vital that students actually come to school every day.”

Chronic absenteeism -- missing 10 percent or more of school days -- remained very high at 28 percent in 2022-23, well above the pre-pandemic level of 16 percent, according to an early look at data from 11 states, reports Linda Jacobson in The 74.

Grose worries that lenient grading policies, such as a minimum grade of 50 percent, even for those who make no effort, teaches students they don't need to show up and do the work to pass their classes.

Another type of academic leniency backfired in North Carolina, she writes. The state moved to a 10-point grading scale in 2015-16: "If a school had a seven-point scale under the old system, an A meant a score of 93-100, while under the new scale, an A was 90-100. The floor for failure went to 60 from 69."

Researchers found the change lifted grades, but not achievement, for the best students, Grose reports. Lower-performing students earned the same grades, but missed school more often. They fell even farther behind, widening achievement gaps.

San Diego Unified's Horton Elementary is working hard to get students to school, reports Jakob McWhinney for Voice of San Diego. Chronic absenteeism was 22 percent before schools closed down, and soared to 67 percent in 2021-22.

Nearly all the school's students are disadvantaged and 40 percent are classified as homeless.

The go-to-school campaign starts with a welcome-back night, attendance awards and the chance for the class with the best attendance to slime the school counselor. There are science nights and movie nights to get parents on campus.

Principal Danielle Garegnani's attendance team also write "nudge letters" informing parents of "how much school their child has missed, how it compares with other kids and the ramifications of absences on learning," McWhinney writes. "The team decided that not only would teachers send letters to students they had relationships with, but that students should also write notes to absent classmates to let them know they were missed."

For students with the worst attendance, interventions are "personalized and targeted and include consultations with the school’s nurse or counselor and parent conferences," he writes. Often the principal or a staffer make home visits.

One girl was afraid to walk to school through a dangerous neighborhood when an adult wasn't available as an escort. Now, if no family member is available, "the student will call a staff member to pick them up."

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