A recent news report focusing on Oregon student absenteeism and its impact on learning is spurring conversations among local educators and our citizens – especially because the article named Oceanlake Elementary School in Lincoln County as “the worst” for chronically absent first-graders.
Lincoln County School District’s total absentee rate, including online and charter schools, was 8.9 percent during the 2012-2013 school year. More specific to Oceanlake Elementary, the first grade absentee rate was 9.93 percent, as compared to the “chronic” absentee rate of 47 percent reported in the article.
“The large gap between the two numbers shows that we have some students who miss a lot of school and others who have perfect or near perfect attendance,” says Rilke Klingsporn, principal at Oceanlake Elementary School. “Our office staff and teachers are aware when a student begins missing school, either excused or unexcused by the parent. We have a system in place to get students back in class.” That system includes taking attendance twice a day at the elementary level, and taking attendance during each class period for the secondary grades; when students are absent, calls are made to the home to determine the reason. Lincoln County schools are emphasizing attendance expectations, with various rewards and sanctions to encourage regular attendance. For example, elementary schools will recognize students with perfect attendance certificates, school-wide announcements, and small prizes. In the older grades, students who skip class can receive lunch detention.
“It is extremely important for children to attend school regularly, and even more so in the earlier grades when they are learning the fundamentals needed for academic success,” says Betsy Wilcox, curriculum, instruction and assessment administrator for Lincoln County School District. Before moving into the district-level position this past July, Wilcox had been principal at Oceanlake Elementary School for five years.
“In kindergarten and first grade, young students are learning how to read, to do early math, and other important skills. This sets the foundation for advanced learning as they progress through school,” Wilcox says. “When they miss even one lesson, it’s easy for them to fall behind, and it can be difficult for them to catch up. It is up to us to intervene and help parents understand the importance of regular attendance.”
Wilcox commented that the school district’s attendance figures as reported to the Oregon Department of Education give a more accurate overall picture of absenteeism than what was presented in the news article.
“The data in that article pinpointed a very specific group – children enrolled in the first grade who had missed 10 percent or more of school during six months of the 2012-13 school year,” Wilcox said. “Ten percent is the equivalent of missing two days of school each month.”
The attendance officer will meet with families to find solutions – sometimes it’s a simple as providing a $10 alarm clock to the child, Gabler says. She and Hawley offer parenting advice and other solutions as appropriate, including connecting the family with social support agencies to help meet a family’s other needs. When all else fails, the attendance officer will begin legal proceedings against the parent for violating state law that requires all children between the ages of 7 and 18 to attend school, with certain exceptions.