Absence policy fails to address the root issue
By Isabelle Spence, Editor-in-Chief
In recent years, the high school has struggled with student attendance. Many students often feel as though they can skip class and not face any consequences, an opinion that was seemingly supported by what seems to be a lack of response from the administration. To address this problem, the administration recently announced that they would begin to enforce the previous attendance policy. Mere months later, this decision has been overruled in favor of introducing another new absence policy. However, this new attendance policy may hurt more students than it helps, as well as fails to address the real underlying issues.
The administration’s new absence policy introduces several consequences for missing class time. The office keeps track of how many periods students miss of their individual classes per semester. If a student misses at least 10 periods of a single class, they are called in for a meeting with the assistant principal. If the student misses 15 periods, the class’ grade then goes to a pass or fail system. Finally, if the student misses 20 periods, they automatically lose any credit they were earning in the class, and will likely have to repeat the course.
Like many policies from the administration, the intentions behind this one were positive. For too long, the school has faced an epidemic of absences. According to recent calculations, if this new system had been in place the spring semester of last year, 176 students would not have received credit for their classes.
However, the root of the issue is not that students are just perpetually skipping class. We as an editorial board believe that the real problem is one of academic rigor. In our experiences, there are plenty of classes offered at the high school that, if one is reasonably accountable and academic, it is perfectly possible to earn an A or B while missing 20 periods. Though somewhat misguided, it makes sense that students will only do as much work as they have to to earn a top grade. This means students will often only attend the minimum amount of school they feel is necessary.
All of these factors add up to create a culture seemingly rooted in laziness throughout the school. It is typically frowned upon for students to take days off of school to work on homework, college applications, or taking ‘mental-health days.’ However, sometimes teachers and administrators are not expected to show up at the beginning of the day, or are allowed to take schools days off to have prep time. We understand that teaching is a very difficult job layered with many different responsibilities, all of which require an intensive time commitment. However, if teachers are not held to the common standards of conduct, students will be a lot less likely to follow new policies. The best leadership comes from setting a strong example. Right now, there is a disconnect from the message the administration is putting out for students and the expectations for the staff.
This new attendance policy also fails to align with the new standards-based grading system. Standards-based grading shifts the focus away from classwork and towards test taking and demonstration of skills. Under this mentality, if a student is able to meet standards, even with a large amount of absences, why should they be denied credit? The philosophies behind these two policies seem to contradict each other, and may send mixed messages to students.
The new policies also fail to mesh with another district initiative: the recent push for increased equity. Students of color, as well as special needs students, have much higher rates of absences than other groups in the school. By enacting harsh punishments for missing class time, the administration will disproportionately affect these groups. Again, this is a systemic problem which has little to do with attendance.
All in all, the attendance policy has a noble goal: increase the amount of students in class and help foster a community more involved with the school. The policy itself could even be considered fairly lenient; a student could miss nearly a fifth of all class time and still receive credit. However, the policy is aiming to fix problems that it will not be able to. Instead, the school administration should put more attention on enforcing a higher level of rigor in classes so that students will not so easily be able to skip class. If this root issue is solved, we believe that the surround symptoms will disappear en suite.