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Oct. 28, 2011

New attendance policy: recycled and unimproved

by Claire Koenig, Print Managing Op/Ed Editor
MCPS is adamant that the new strategy to encourage attendance is not the same as the loss of credit (LC) policy students remember from 2010. But although the concepts have been revisited and the effort re-christened, there is little difference between today's approach to keeping students in class and the one eliminated for academic and ethical reasons in the 2010-2011 school year.

One of the primary arguments against the original attendance policy was the disproportionate consequences losing credit had on certain racial groups within the county. According to the Parents Coalition of Montgomery County, in the spring of 2008, 19.2% of Hispanic students and 16.4% of African American students lost credit for one or more classes. Only 4.1% of white students were similarly affected.

The most common speculation to explain this inequality is that white and Asian students and their parents were more capable of "playing the system" - or sucking up to their teachers. According to Student Member of the Board of Education (SMOB) Alan Xie, "Some people are taking advantage of the system because they have better knowledge of what to do about the attendance practice."

But regardless of the cause, the unintended prejudice is clear, and the revisitation of the LC policy provided an opportunity to find a solution. Unfortunately, the answer the MCPS Board of Education (BOE) has settled upon doesn’t seem to resolve much of anything.

In response to the racial divide in the attendance policy, the BOE decided to put in place a computerized method of recording attendance that requires teachers to submit absences and tardies promptly to avoid potential bias. Sound familiar? Blair has been using a similar program for years now, and teachers report that the only apparent change is in choice of software.

Perhaps the most successful attempt to revamp the LC policy is in the edited system of appeals that prevents students from losing credit. This policy allows students who are in line for loss of credit to the right to an appeal in which they set up an attendance plan with their counselor that they must hold to for the rest of the year. If the student adheres to the plan, the LC will be rescinded.

However this too is nothing new to MCPS. The appeals system has been around as long as the LC policy has; the question is in why so many students have never heard of it before.

Previously the burden of appeals, that is the task of initiating the appeal process, was placed on the student. According to Xie, the BOE has reformed this arrangement so that when the updated computerized attendance system records that a student has earned three unexcused absences, it sends automatic emails to the student's parents and school administrators who are expected to take action on the student's behalf. This way the school is responsible for saving students in danger of losing credit from retaking classes or even postponing their graduation.

The fault here is not in the changes made to the appeals system, but the lack of information available to student regarding these modifications. Despite the drastic change made to the policy, Blair has made few general announcements regarding attendance and many Blazers still know little or nothing about student rights in terms of attendance.

Schools must convey this information to students efficiently and thoroughly through widespread announcements and frequent reminders, not scattered information that circulates through only part of the student body. It is imperative that students fully understand their rights and responsibilities with regard to their education; because that is the only way they can begin to take it into their own hands.

It is not only the lack of progress and communication within the policy that is disheartening, but the fact that the policy exists at all. In 2009, Xie called the original LC policy a direct violation of the MCPS Grading and Reporting guidelines and the Student Rights and Responsibilities handbook. It encouraged the use of grades as a disciplinary measure by allowing attendance, and therefore behavior, to hold more sway over academic achievement than ability. But have things really changed?

Certainly there is a new name, a new face to an old policy, but fundamentally it includes the same questionable procedures as the old did. The fundamental discrimination that administrators criticized LC for will be meagerly affected at best. Grades will continue to be unfairly influenced by tardiness and unexcused absences. Students will still have to retake classes, attend summer school, graduate late.

By attending class, students show they are making an effort to learn, which is an important step towards a better education. But we must not sacrifice learning and success for the sake of punishing students who do not want to apply the appropriate amount of effort.

The false pretenses with which MCPS has adorned its new attendance policy need to be unmasked. We should look at it for what it is: an embellished replica of the system that wasn’t good enough for us a year ago.



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  • Blair mom and former MCPS student on October 29, 2011 at 2:48 PM
    The bottom line is, students should be in school. I may be an optimist, but I see this policy as MCPS's desire to instill in its students the discipline to go to school, everyday. This discipline will carry into adulthood, and serve every student, of every race and background, in a positive way.

    Having been "the boss", I can tell you that one of the top things bosses look for in an employee is someone who will show up for work. It is great when employees can get the work done quickly, and "cost" through their responsibilities. What is even better, is an employee who will show up everyday, even on the days he/she does not feel like being there, and work.

    I agree 100% that students should be informed about the policy. As far as I know, the policy is spelled out in the Students' Rights and Responsibilities which each student receives. There is a point when it is not the school's responsibility anymore and becomes the students'. When the school handed out the handbook, it did its part. The students now need to do their part and read it, or remain uneducated.

    As far as the unequal ways that this policy has, and may, impact different races, that is very concerning. Again, being the optimist, I hope that with the new notification system in place, administrators will be able to communicate with parents and students to form a plan. The new appeal process will, I hope, be more clear to every student and family, and not just to those who know how to "work the system". There are positives to this new plan, that will decrease the inequality of the former LC policy.
  • Woody Brosnan, vice chair of Safe Silver Spring (View Email) on November 16, 2011 at 4:40 PM
    Coincidentally, Safe Silver Spring will be discussing truancy policies and programs tonight at 7:30 p.m. at the Long Branch Community Center on Piney Branch Road. Students are welcome to attend.

    I like the new policy because it is focused on the problem of why students are missing school and coming up with a remedy. I am a little taken aback that the author of the otherwise excellent column seems to believe there should be no consequences for missing school.

    School attendance is required by state law until a person reaches the age of 16.

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