Over the summer, the district hired some Attendance Teachers and developed a relationship with Hedy Chang, director of Attendance Works, who has worked extensively to improve attendance in schools in New York City. She will be the keynote at our district's "Attendance Counts Summit" in November. I will likely be attending the summit and will have more information to share then about the district's new attendance initiatives as they come into fruition.
As educators, we know attendance counts. Kids that don't come to school aren't exposed to curriculum, fall behind, get retained, drop out of school, etc. Not to mention what some of them get into when they're not in school (if mischief gets made in the hour after school ends, think about what happens when all the non-attenders are roaming around all day).
Attendance has important meaning to members of the CSE team, in particular school psychologists, who are making special education eligibility determinations for kids. Over the summer, I mentioned that I was assigned over a dozen cases to evaluate by one of the associate superintendents, because the students were all having varying levels of difficulty, had been retained several times, and were much older than they should be for the grade they were in (and were at risk of not finishing school by 21). The more I reviewed the records of these cases, the more I realized that many of them had been retained in the first place due to chronic attendance issues. Here's where an uncomfortable wrench gets thrown in: can we say that an underachieving student has an educational disability requiring special education services when they are not in school to have access to the curriculum? The NY State Part 200 regulations tell us:
A student shall not be determined eligible for special education if the determinant factor is:A lack of appropriate instruction basically means anything that has kept a student from getting a good education, poor attendance included. In short, if a kid is struggling in school but has a chronic attendance problem, we cannot call that student educationally disabled and eligible for special education services because they have not been exposed to appropriate instruction.
(i) lack of appropriate instruction in reading, including explicit and systematic instruction in phonemic awareness, phonics, vocabulary development, reading fluency (including oral reading skills) and reading comprehension strategies;
(ii) lack of appropriate instruction in math; or
(iii) limited English proficiency. [Part 200.4(c)(2); emphasis mine]
I had this scenario happen to me recently with two of those summer cases, and it's a tough situation to be put into. One case, Y, was a chronic attendance problem last year and received direct instruction in reading and math due to deficits. She was at least two grade levels behind and wasn't showing improvement through "intensive" interventions in a small group setting. When I tested her, she had a super significant discrepancy between her verbal and nonverbal reasoning, suggesting a verbal learning disability. Although her poor attendance was still concerning to us, we classified her as Learning Disabled (although mom refused to sign for services, which is another story).
The second case, P, was more sticky. P was absent for 50 days in 5th grade and 55 days last year in 6th. His history of absenteeism was significant throughout his school career, and he repeated 3rd and 5th grades. He actually started this year repeating 6th, but my principal moved him onto 7th due to his age (he's almost 15--good call). P teeter-tottered in the "strategic" range of academics, about one year behind, and he didn't receive any interventions. He scored within the low average range on standardized achievement and IQ measures. We didn't feel confident classifying him even though he was behind, because his achievement and IQ were commensurate and his poor attendance suggesting he hadn't had appropriate instruction. What a hard decision to make, especially for a kid who is having some trouble.
Have you had a CSE case like Y or P? How does your school or district deal with attendance concerns?
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