Three years ago, the Missouri State Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE) as part of MSIP 5 (Missouri School Improvement Plan Cycle 5) changed the way all school districts are required to report student absences.
The policy reads, “The percent of students who regularly attend school meets or exceeds the state standard or demonstrates required improvement. The calculation is based on 90 percent of the students attending 90 percent of the time.”
Known as the 90/90 policy, the changes have impacted school districts and students throughout the state including those in the Sedalia School District 200.
“The importance of good attendance goes beyond the classroom implications,” said Jason Curry, principal at Smith-Cotton Junior High. “Of course we want our students to attend class but what we also trying to teach them are the steps they will need to become successful in their life.
“They need to understand the importance of making a commitment to their work ethic that will see them through high school and college and beyond,” Curry said.
Many educators and administrators feel the new standards are more difficult to obtain but the change to 90/90 is a more accurate indicator of attendance.
“It’s much tougher to reach the attendance goal now,” Superintendent Brad Pollitt said. “I am very pleased with the increase in our attendance since the new standards were enacted and I credit that increase to the hard work of the students, their parents and the staff and administrators in the entire district’s buildings for the commitment to see that the students are in attendance.”
While all of the Sedalia 200 schools have seen improvements in attendance over the last three years, perhaps one that has seen the biggest change in attendance is the junior high.
At the beginning of the 2013-14 year, the junior high had a 78 percent attendance rate. Presently under the 90/90 calculations it is at a 91.6 percent rate.
In a presentation to the Sedalia Board of Education Jan. 11, Curry addressed some of the reasons for the improvements in student attendance.
“We have made an effort throughout our building to make attendance a priority,” Curry told the board. “We know a student performs better academically when they are in school.
“One of the most important ways we get students to attend school and keep them coming to school are the one-on-one relationships we build with the students through our check and connect program, our seminars and the attendance club,” Curry added. “We want our students to realize that we are there to help them succeed but they have to be in class to receive the best help.”
The attendance club is a program where students who are not meeting their attendance goals go to for help in understanding the reasons why their attendance is important and what they can do to improve it.
Two students, sixth grader Jessica Jones and seventh grade student Victoria Wheat, addressed the board, telling the members about the impact the attendance club had made on their grades.
“Before October I had missed some days of school,” Wheat told the Democrat Thursday afternoon. “Since the beginning of October I haven’t missed a day of school.
“I knew my attendance wasn’t good but I didn’t realize why it was so important to be here,” she added. “I had a C+ in my math class but now I have brought that grade up to a B and I have A’s and B’s in all my classes.”
Jones agreed with Wheat about the benefits to her education since going to the attendance club meetings.
“(The teachers and counselors) talk to us about why it is important to come to school,” Jones said. “If we aren’t here we miss the time with the teachers and our lessons and there are things we have to make up.
“It’s just easier to be here so I don’t miss out on things,” she added. “I had a D in one of my classes and now I have a B in it and all of my other grades are really good too.”
Curry said the district is aware there are outside factors that can affect a student’s attendance.
“We know that at times a student may have to miss school because of an unavoidable event such as a funeral or a medical emergency, and we don’t want students to come to school who have a fever or who are sick by any means,” Curry said. “It’s important to have the parents notify us in advance of when those events do occur.
“What we want them to realize though is if they schedule an appointment for the morning is it is important that the student return to school as soon as possible after their appointment,” Curry said. “The amount of time a student is here is a factor in how the 90/90 rate is figured.”
Under the old system, if one student had 100 percent attendance and one student had 80 percent attend the district average would be 90 percent.
The new calculations do not allow for students with high percentages in attendance to help those who struggle.
As an incentive to encourage students who struggle and reward those who have high attendance, the school provides incentives throughout the school year to students.
“We have 250 students who are at a 99 percent attendance rate or higher and we want to recognize them for the efforts that they make as well,” Curry said. “We received a grant from Walmart and there are several other local businesses that have been very generous in providing coupons and gift cards for us to give at various times throughout the year to recognize the students’ successes.
“Our PTA has been incredibly generous and none of those incentives come from taxpayer dollars,” Curry added. “It is a way we can reward the students for their efforts.”
Some of the best examples of the rewards were provided by Wheat.
“It’s hard when you miss a lesson, because you don’t get to have that taught to you again if you are gone,” Wheat said. “You miss out on a whole day of what you could be learning and it so it’s really important to be here.”
Hope Lecchi can be reached at 660-826-1000 ext. 1484