January 26, 2009

High schools differ on tackling class attendance problems

 At Bristol Eastern High School, nearly 500 first quarter grades were lowered because students missed class or showed up late.

At Bristol Central High School, teachers are not allowed to take off points for tardiness or poor attendance, though officials discovered five of them had mistakenly done so anyway.

Board of Education members decided recently they didn’t mind have two different procedures in place, one at each school, and opted to let each continue to do whatever seems best for its students.

“We should let the high schools deal with this themselves,” said Karen Vibert, a school board member.  “If we do it ourselves, we’d be micromanaging.”

The principals of each of the high schools said that only about 6 percent of students are chronic problems. These students, they said, are well known to administrators, teachers, counselors and others who are trying to keep them on the path to graduation.

V. Everett Lyons, the principal at Bristol Eastern High School, said that 52 percent of his teachers don’t take off points for attendance issues.

Of those who do, nearly half the effected grades are in physical education and about 20 percent are in music classes, which depend heavily on band and choir members showing up.

Three first period teachers in the two subjects were the most stringent, Lyons said.

He also said that most of the problems with getting to class on time occur first period and in the classes that go to lunch in the middle of a long period, with parts of the class both before and after lunch. Students tend to straggle back late from the cafeteria, Lyons said.

He said the four minutes that students have between classes is not a problem, In fact, he said, it used to be three minutes “back in the dark ages, when love lives were not as involved.”

“Kids were faster” back a couple of decades ago, Lyons joked.

Martin Semmel, the principal at Central, said that when he checked on the new policy barring teachers from penalizing for attendance, he discovered five teachers who were still doing it.

“That should not be happening,” Semmel said. Only one tech education teacher had socked many grades, however.

Semmel said the students who pose a problem in terms of attendance should be getting detention, talks with guidance counselors and discussions with parents.

But, he admitted, the new policy at Central hasn’t made a dent in the tardiness of students.

The only thing that has helped, Semmel said, was for administrators to stand in the front hall at the beginning of school and hand out detentions as students come in late.

When they did that, “the kids were moving much quicker” because they knew there would be immediate consequences for failing to be in class, Semmel said.

The problem is that “it’s hard to keep something up like that,” Semmel said.

Fact box

In the first quarter of this school year at Bristol Eastern High School, 484 of 8,884 class grades were lowered to reflect attendance problems.

In five cases, the grade dropped by 31 or more points.

In 17 cases, it dropped between 21 and 30 points.

In 71 cases, it was lowered 11 to 20 points.

In 385 cases, grades fell by 10 or fewer points.

In six cases, the grade did not change though attendance was considered.

Nearly all of the students lost points from physical education or music classes or from three other teachers who proved especially tough.

Copyright 2009. All rights reserved.
Contact Steve Collins at scollins@bristolpress.com


Anonymous said...

Shouldn't there be a uniform policy amongst the City's high schools? Is it fair to have different policies, especially when one policy penalizes a grade (a student's equivalent of a financial penalty to an adult) and one doesn't? I think the BOE is shirking their duty punting this one.

Confused said...

and we wonder why the students are confused - principals and board of ed members can't set a standard? get rid of the principals and don't re-elect the board members - better off appointing students to run the system.

Odin said...

It's fair if the kids at Central knew that attendance counts, even if it doesn't at Eastern. But life isn't fair. That's a more important take away from high school than math or English.

Tim Gamache said...

I believe we have been down this path before.After discovering a discrepency between the high schools in relation to academic requirements for eligibility for athletic participation,the BOE immeadiately set a standard "across the board" for both schools.Having different standards between the schools on ANY issue is an invitation to confusion and an administrative "quagmire" for the staffs at both schools.The BOE "not wanting to get involved" is hardly what the parents/teachers are looking for from the education departments governing body.It is my opinion the BOE should be taking all steps necessary to make the standards at both schools the same "across the board."

john cullen said...

According to Odin, the policy in question at Central is ‘fair’ if it has been communicated, and I would agree if this policy were unique to this school. It is not. We operate a school system. Having divergent policies in such a fundamental and critical area as attendance and its’ academic consequences is confusing. If the two schools, along with the Board of Ed, cannot formulate a policy in this area that is consistent and acceptable to the three parties, how can the students be expected to take the policy seriously and feel they are being treated fairly?

Odin seems accepting of the Boards’ approach to keep its’ hands off the situation, and proffers that coming to understand the fact life is not fair, as is this divergence in policy, is a very valuable life lesson to take away. So thumbs up to the Bristol school system for having disparate attendance policies as it teaches our children that life is not fair? With mediocre and, in my opinion, misguided leadership and tacit acceptance of it, small wonder life isn’t fair. We reap what we sow, and if the current state of affairs in our wonderful country is any indication, approaching things with an ‘oh well, life just ain’t fair’ attitude doesn’t bode well.

Our young adults need to understand that as long as they are in Bristol, their elders will make every effort to see that they are treated fairly and consistently, especially in such fundamental areas. And they should have a sense that we know what we are doing. My feeling is that the board needs to establish and maintain some minimal, core consistent standards among our schools, and this policy appears to fall under that grouping. If the schools want to define identities and vary their approaches to ‘teaching’, the area of attendance and academic standards is no place to do it.

Odin said...

What I should have said was that the important lesson here is that the world is not always consistent. The rules for college basketball are different from the rules for pro basketball. So long as those different rules are clearly established, it's fair.

Anonymous said...

School prepares students for their entrance into society.

If employees are consistently late or don't show up for work they can't expect to get a good raise or even maintain their job.

Attendance should be factored into grading for unexcused absenses and tardiness. Not doing so is setting a child up for unrealistic expectations of their future employers.

Tim Gamache said...

6:48AM: Excellent point!