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Poor attendance jacks up student failure rate – but what to do about it?

Discussion of the school’s Response to Intervention report dominated the Dec. 8 monthly meeting of the New Orleans Charter Science & Mathematics High board.

The report takes a close look at Sci High’s student achievement levels through the first half of the year. Of the schools 370 students,  182 are currently failing at least one course. Reasons for failure range from poor attendance to behavior issues to academic performance. Students identified for the intervention program were chosen based on grades, teacher recommendations and poor attendance.

An academic team is attempting to turn the numbers around. A “point person” – one for every 30 students — was assigned to meet with those in trouble and discuss options. The teachers created a document for each student listing strategies for improving  grades.

The Response to Intervention plan also includes a contract that commits the student to continuing improvement, “power tutoring” every day after school, peer mediation, group interventions and contacting parents through phone calls and letters sent home.

So far, 41 students are no longer failing, but others have shown no improvement or are doing worse.

Among the students whose grades are worse or unimproved, a large percentage struggle with issues that are not academic but that interfere with academics, the report said.

Attendance is a dominant issue, but board members could not reach agreement on how to solve the problem. Some blamed truancy and tardiness on lack of transportation while others cited laziness. Most parents are at work in the mornings and unable to make sure their kids get up and get to school on time, board members observed.

“It’s been suggested to me before that we change their schedules around, give them something less important as their first period,” board member Mary Zervigon said.

The problem with this suggestion, one board member pointed out, is that in Louisiana almost all courses are graduation requirements, electives included.
Another suggestion was that the school start later in the morning and add a class in the afternoon, given that many teachers have been staying as late as 6 p.m. to provide tutoring. But most board members disagreed, saying the students would still arrive late because they could sleep later.

The board acknowledged that a solution is going to take awhile and agreed to continue discussing options at future meetings.

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