It may come as no surprise that nearly a quarter of the students at Jefferson County Public Schools identified by the state as persistently low-achieving missed more than 20 days of class during the 2010-11 school year.
We would hope that parents of students at these schools would be working even harder with their children to help them excel in the classroom. But the data tell a different story: Low-performing schools are experiencing a higher rate of absenteeism. So how can we expect our students to meet state requirements when they're not even in the classroom? And how can we hold our teachers accountable when students are not showing up to school?
In reviewing creative solutions for improving student success at low-achieving schools, the Jefferson County Teachers Association discovered this trend of higher absenteeism than in other schools. As a result, the JCTA worked with district officials to review all of the attendance records at the 13 schools in the district that the Kentucky Department of Education has identified as persistently low-achieving since 2010.
What we discovered was eye-opening: According to JCPS records, an average of 24 percent of students at these schools missed more than 20 days of school during the 2010-11 academic year, compared with 15 percent of students at all middle and high schools.
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Moreover, 38.2 percent of students at Valley Tradition`al High School missed more than 20 days of class, and 49.8 percent of Valley students missed 16 or more days. At Western High School, 34.1 percent of students missed more than 20 days, with 44.4 percent of the school missing more than 16 days of classroom instruction.
Missing more than 20 days of class each year is, effectively, the same as missing an entire month. When absent students return to class, the teacher is forced to take time away from the rest of the class to help them catch up on their work.
It's no wonder so many students at these schools are not meeting state requirements on their tests. While student absenteeism is not the sole reason for poor student performance, it certainly is a major factor.
The staff at these struggling schools, supported by the district administration, is doing everything in its power to improve attendance, but the data make it clear that schools cannot solve this problem on their own. Student absenteeism on this scale is a community crisis that requires a community-wide response.
That is why the teachers association has called on Louisville Mayor Greg Fischer to work with Superintendent Donna Hargens to form a joint task force to investigate the root causes of absenteeism at these schools.
Further, the association believes the truancy laws that are currently on the state's books need to be enforced. According to the Kentucky Revised Statutes, any student between the ages of six and 18 is truant if that student is absent without a valid excuse on three or more days. The statute states that a student is considered to be a habitual truant if he or she is reported for truancy on two or more occasions.
Can our current district absenteeism policies be improved? Are our truancy laws being enforced? Can our community transportation and health services help?
Are far too many high school students choosing to work minimum-wage jobs at the expense of their education? What can we do as a community to improve student attendance — and therefore student success — at these low-achieving schools?
These are questions the community should be asking. These are questions the task force should address. These are questions that need to be answered if we want our children to succeed in school.