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How I Handled...

Improving Student Attendance Rates

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Each week, members of Education World's How I Handled team share how they handled actual problems relating to school leadership, parent involvement, professional development, and a host of other "principal" responsibilities. This week, learn how one of our principal problem solvers was able to significantly improve student attendance rates.

The Problem:

Our school performance score is based on several state-mandated factors. Student attendance and dropout rates count toward 10 points of the total score. (That might not sound like much but every point counts!) We had a history of attendance problems; students were allowed to check out of school to eat lunch or for other reasons. Many students did not return, so those hours missed were counted against our attendance scores. Since that was an element of our overall school performance score, I knew that something must be done.

The Solution:

We decided that the best way to raise our attendance score would be to put an end to the policy that allowed students to check out [of school] themselves; instead, we would require parents to sign out students when checking out was necessary. Although student checkout was our priority, we also closely monitored other absences, suspensions, and expulsions -- because they all counted against our attendance score. Our dropout rate, fortunately, is very low; to keep the dropout rate low, we continued a policy begun the previous year, in which I personally counsel every student who is thinking about dropping out.

The Reflection:

Often simple policy changes can result in accomplishing goals. In the first year of the new sign-out policy, our attendance rate jumped to 96 percent (from 85 percent the previous year), which gained us the maximum points for attendance. That simple change -- combined with the fact that the total school community worked very hard to accomplish other performance gains across the board -- enabled us to exceed our growth factor each of the past two years.

About the How I Handled... Team of Principal Problem Solvers
The How I Handled... series is intended to be practical resource for all principals and principals-to-be. Six principals comprise our problem-solving team. This team of hard-working and reflective principals remains anonymous; in that way, they can share freely the range of issues/problems they are called on to solve each day. The series also illustrates the wide range of skills today's principals are required to possess. Two members of the team are elementary school principals, two work at the middle level, and two are high school principals.

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