The No-Show Problem in West Virginia Public Schools

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Hoppy Kercheval- WV Metronews 

It has been said, in one form or another, that 80 percent of success is showing up—if we can just overcome inertia and force ourselves to get to work, school or the gym, we improve our chances of reaching a favorable outcome.

That is particularly true in education. The education think tank Attendance Works says across the country more than 8 million students are chronically absent, meaning they are missing ten percent or more school days for both excused and unexcused absences. That “translates into third-graders unable to master reading, sixth-graders failing subjects and ninth-graders dropping out of high school.”

With that in mind, consider the findings in the West Virginia Balanced Scorecard recently released by the West Virginia Department of Education.  The report measured attendance at all 633 elementary, middle and high schools in the state and the results are deeply troubling.

The report used the benchmark of the percent of students attending 90 percent or more instruction days, or 162 days out of a 180 day calendar.  Schools where less than 80 percent of the students made it to school at least 162 days are in the lowest category—“does not meet standard.”

According to the data, more than half (52.6 percent) of all high schools in West Virginia are in that bottom category.  Forty-one percent of high schools fall into the “partially meets standard” category, meaning between 80 and 90 percent of the schools’ students were in class at least 162 days.  In 26 of the state’s 55 counties, every high school (often just one high school in smaller counties) was at the lowest standard for attendance.

The middle school numbers are a little better. About one-third (35.5 percent) of the schools do not meet the standard for attendance, while 57.2 percent at least partially meet the standard. Just three of the 152 middle schools in West Virginia actually exceeded the standard because almost all of their children were in school at least 90 percent of the time.

Absenteeism is also a problem in the early grades.  The report shows one out of every five elementary schools does not meet the attendance standard, while just over half partially meet the goal.

The amount of lost instruction time for these children is stunning. Children can make up work after missing a couple of days, but students who miss days on end fall hopelessly behind.  A study by The Hamilton Project on absenteeism, says, “Physically being present in school is one of the most basic conditions for a student’s success.”

West Virginia Education Association President Dale Lee puts it another way.  “When you have kids missing 30, 40 days of school, it doesn’t matter what test we use, what curriculum we use or how good the teachers are—if they are not there we can’t teach them.”

It is overly simplistic to suggest that just showing up is enough for a successful life, but be assured that not showing up, especially at school, creates obstacles that can be nearly impossible to overcome.