Tuesday, November 02, 2004

Too Liberal?

I woke up in the middle of the night still mulling over the department chairs meeting of yesterday afternoon. The topic was clarifying the new attendance policy which was put in place by the discipline committee at our school this summer.
The new criteria disturbed me from the start, and now that it will be implemented I felt that I really must organize my thoughts and express my concerns.
Since I spent the last hour typing up this letter, I figured I would also post it here for my readers.
Sometimes I am afraid that my colleagues consider me too liberal in my views of education. I think I am simply applying common sense.
Let me know what you as former students, parents, and teachers think.

Re: Max Hayes new attendance policy

My understanding of the new attendance policy put in place by the discipline committee this summer is this:

Tardies in excess of 10 minutes equal an absence.
with a pass - excused absence
without a pass - unexcused absence
10 or more excused or unexcused absences a semester equals an automatic failure.

*Failures due to excused absences may be appealed.

I have some concerns.

According to this policy, a student could be 10 minutes late to class 10 times during a semester, (missing 100 minutes out of the 3,600 scheduled) earn an A (according to points earned on the grading scale for the class), yet get an F on his report card and have to make up the class in summer school or night school.
Another student might be absent for 9 days, (missing 360 minutes from that class) and pass the class, perhaps even also earning an A.

Now, of course, the grade may be appealed before a committee of the principal, school nurse, and UCC chair.
A time consuming process, but I'm sure in line with professional responsibilities. These appeal meetings will certainly be scheduled after school, so that the student will not be absent, yet again, from class.

My question is philosophical.

When we grade students using this attendance criteria, what exactly are we assessing?
I was under the impression that a grade was an assessment of learning.
The attendance and tardy records are intended to speak for themselves.

We require attendance to facilitate learning. If a student has learned despite poor attendance, should he be required to relearn the material in summer school or night school? (At a rather substantial financial cost to himself or his family)

What is the difference between an excused absence and an unexcused absence with this policy, other than allowing a student to appeal a failing grade, thus requiring the formation of an appeals committee?
(My personal observation is that our administration is already a bit overscheduled, but...I could be wrong)

The district policy is:
5 unexcused absences a year equals an automatic failure.
Excused absences are determined by parents and teachers. Individual teachers are entrusted to use their professional judgement to determine whether or not a student has exhibited sufficient learning in order to pass his or her specific course.

Max Hayes in the attempt to raise our standards, by disregarding excused absences, may have unwittingly instituted an attendance policy that may simply serve to raise our failure and dropout rates, as opposed to enhancing any real learning.
In addition, it places policy ahead of professional judgement.

My graduate coursework on Assessment in Education and Education Philosophy stressed the necessity that any policy set by a school must, first and foremost, advantage the child.
Is there any advantage to the child with this new attendance criteria?
I am hard pressed to see how this attendance criteria will result in more learning than the one that has been put in place by the district.

Can we change it now?
If it will help our students succeed, I think we should.

I do appreciate your comments.


Renee S said...

Marybeth: This is an absolutely excellent letter!! You made your point very well. I am really enjoying your blogs. Wish I could be as articulate as you are, as motivated, and have as much energy.
Btw, I found your blog via Ryze.

derek said...


You know, at the age of students at Max Hayes, compulsory attendance is kind of silly. My biggest criticism of public education is the occasional lack of accomodation for learning styles outside of the norm. I had a friend (a CMSD student, as I was) that was absolutely brilliant. She could come to class once a week, read on her own and ace any test (she got a 1400+ on the SAT, dropped out, got a GED, got straight A's her first semester at U of Akron and transferred to U of Minnesota). No one addresses why academically talented students drop out and this, I believe, is why.