While it is the middle of July and cutting class is the furthest notion from the 2,700 students who will attend come the end of August, being required to show up for class is a year-old policy recently cited by GHS Headmaster Chris Winters as:
“This is not going away”
At the last Board of Education meeting of the 2011-12 school year, Winters presented a review of the newly-implemented GHS attendance policy. While technically a procedure which is not normally within the board purview, the Attendance Policy was approved by the board in June 2011 "given the high profile of the topic."
The policy recognizes 3 types of absences:
- No Fault;
While no fault absences do not count towards credit loss, both unexcused and excused absences do. See the attached explanation for when the absences will result in loss of credit.
After a year of implementation, the early results seem highly positive with improvements in decreasing levels of both absenteeism and tardy arrival by students throughout the past year.
“We saw the results come back rather favorably”
Winters explained that with any "significant procedural change," it should be "expected that there will bumps along the road." Admitting that the implementation of the new policy "created a high level of anxiety amongst students and parents” at start of the year," ... as the year progressed, the anxiety lessened," Winters said.
The results show "steep drops in the number of tardies as well as excused and unexcused absences."
In fact, Winters even admitted that he was "surprised and pleased by" the tardys in particular which continued to decrease as the year progressed. Stating that the trend was unexpected because "he thought that the students would become savvy to the policy and start to ignore the consequences," the headmaster acknowledged.
GHS Administration Got Ahead Of The Concerns
“Attendance is a critical element that support teaching and learning” is the stated rationale for the change in the policy. As proposed last June, the new policy attempted to limit the number of absences a student may incur before losing credit for the course. During the process of approving the policy changes, the board questioned Winter on the possible impact on students who faced significant health issues, how students could “appeal” the loss of credit and the process of informing both students and parents of the new guidelines.
In his report, Winter reviewed the 11-step communication process that the administration took to inform students and parents. The bi-lingual process, included both mailing and emailing parents, as well as discussions with them during parent meetings held in October and November; and forums which board member Steve Anderson described as "removing the mythology that was developing."
Anderson also cited the FAQ has a useful tool explaining for students and parents how "participating in a baseball game" or a "death in the family" impacts a student's attendance record.
Winters said that the FAQ is revised continually and in fact "living in parallel with the attendance policy ... clarifying how we are implementing the language" used in the policy.
Students were informed in class assemblies, hard copy distribution of the policy, discussions with the Student Government and postings on the school website. Steps also were taken to improve the notification process for absences and in the formation of two Appeal Boards (one per semester.)
And The Results Are...:
So, was the policy change effective? While results were only available for the first three marking periods, early returns were strongly positive. In all three periods, as compared to the prior year, decreases were noted in the level of tardies (defined as being more than 15 minutes late to the start of a class), excuses absences and unexcused absences. The improvements would not be considered as subtle, they were substantial:
- Tardies decreased by 25%
- Excused absences decreased 12%
- Unexcused absences decreased 33%
With 2,700 students, there are many opportunities for "absences" and the numbers show the impact of the policy.
In the 2010-11 year, there were a total of 149,757 excused and unexcused absences for the first 3 marking periods (absences representing a missed class, not a missed school day.) In the comparable 2011-2012 period there were a total of 122,339 absences, representing an 18% reduction.
The new policy equates three tardy arrivals to one absence and the results were even more striking. In the 2011-11 period, there were 27,686 tardies but in 2011-12 there were 20,704 tardies, a decrease of 25%.
An indication of just how fluid the policy implementation is, Winters responded to board member Jennifer Dayton's question on timing of the Appeals Review during the week of final exams.
While the GHS Administration originally planned to conduct the appeals the week before finals, they actually decided that it would be better to hold them during the actual week of testing.
"Our message to students is you need to get the best grade you can get in that class," said Winters. "We are trying not have the appeal of credit influence the way they approach a final exam."
According to Winters the administrators who sat in the appeals board spent for 4 hours a day for several days. Winters believes it was time well spent saying it was an "opportunity to make a difference” with some students by helping them to "address and confront" the "root causes."
"We only had one student who had to appeal both the first and second semesters," noted Winters, who added "I think he wanted to come back and talk to us again."
Sadly, there are those students who actually lost credit for courses, including those who outright failed courses and those who were able to successfully appeal their loss of credits.
A total of 132 students lost credit for courses with the majority, 97, losing credit for 3 or less courses, but 12 students actually losing credit for 6 to 9 courses (a stat that Winters stated needed more investigation on his part, but given the timing of the Board meeting, he did not have an opportunity to do so.)
Fifty of those students ended up failing the courses outright. Fifty-four students appealed with 8 students requests being rejected and 34 students being granted credit. The remaining students were given the opportunity to earn back their loss credit some of which had been successful but the majority were still pending completion by the end of the 4thmarking period.
Timely, Measurable and Accurate
In addition to the timeliness of the appeals, Dayton also inquired as to the "consistent application" of the tardy designation by teachers as well as the accuracy of the notifications.
As far as consistency, that is always going to be an issue that we are confronting, said Winters. "Some teachers are rigid and some less so."
Certainly the size of the GHS campus plays a factor in the travel time in between classes. Winters explained that for students "going to and coming from Science Wing" the Policy allows for an "extra 3 minutes in between classes for obvious reasons." Even with the additional time, "going to isn't such a big deal but, coming from...you have teachers who are trying to start classes and you have some kids coming from science wing."
As far as consistency, "we are measuring the tardies given and we are speaking with teachers who are giving an excessive amount and to teachers who are giving none. We keep reinforcing what the policy is and how we expect it to be implemented at faculty meetings and other opportunities."
Winters explained that in the past parents would leave a message on the school answering machine reporting their child was ill. However, they didn't receive any "confirmation back that it was actually heard and recorded."
Now, such a call in triggers an email saying a child was absent and the reason was illness. "At first the notification seemed excessive to some parents, but I noticed that as the semester went on the complaints disappeared. People started to understand the policy. There is an adjustment."
Winters sees this a a positive stating "we have a lot of parents paying a lot more attention."
In a time where the focus on student achievement has increased, it would appear that the Greenwich Public School System has taken some positive steps to ensuring that students maximize their time in the classroom.
As Winters explained in the introduction to his report, “Students learn from their classmates and contribute to the learning of others. We believe that consistent class attendance is vital to students’ success.”
So be cool and attend school.