Missouri Schools Plagued By AIS Syndrome
There was an episode of Everybody Loves Raymond in which Ray decided he was going to cure his wife Debra of her habit of being late. He was encouraged by his curmudgeony father to apply the AIS rule. The was essentially a zero tolerance policy for being late. When he gave his wife the time they had to leave for an important awards ceremony, Ray told her she had to be AIS by 6:00. That meant A$* In Seat. If not, he was going to leave without her- immediate severe consequences for failing to be AIS.
It appears that the Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education has adopted its own AIS policy which it is forcing school districts to impose on their students. New attendance policies are far more concerned with a child’s presence in class than their learning.
What are they asking districts to focus on? This comes from the latest Missouri School Improvement Plan (MSIP5)
Attendance Rate—The district ensures all students regularly attend school. The percent of students who regularly attend school meets or exceeds the state standard or demonstrates required improvement.
What is the standard?
Attendance targets use the individual student’s attendance rate and set the expectation that 90% of the students are in attendance 90% of the time.
The student’s attendance rate is determined by using the “hours of absence” method. This method is calculated by dividing the hours of attendance by the total hours enrolled, then multiplying by 100 rounded to the tenth.
In order to achieve Accreditation with Distinction, districts have been given these targets set by DESE. Now let’s look at how this is being implemented at the district level. Here is a letter from the Wentzville District explaining their policy.
Another family received this automatically generated report from the district, triggered by the formula when their child’s absences exceeded the rule. This family is being challenged about their child’s 2 1/2 absences when the report clearly states the child was sick.
The policy simply looks at the number of days a child is absent out of the total number of days they should have been in school at any particular point in time. Note that a child who misses three days of school in the first two weeks of school would automatically be in the Red Zone with a 70% attendance. The same child, by the end of the year who missed no other days would be safely in the green with 99.9% attendance. A child who missed one day a month would find themselves in the Yellow Zone by mid-September and would remain there all year long.
In addition to any of the stress that the implementation of Common Core is adding to their child’s school experience, parents now must deal with bureaucratic questioning of their child’s absences. Note the “interventions” listed at the bottom of the first letter. They cover the gambit from simple phone calls home, to meetings with school officials, to the extreme referral to Family Court and MO’s Children’s Division. We’d like to think that schools will use proper discretion in deciding which intervention to use, but recent stories about school overreaction (man arrested for picking up his kids from school) do not give us much confidence.
DESE officials have been asked several times in hearings, “Who is ultimately responsible for a child’s education.” It took a while, but the answer did finally come that it is the parents. However, this policy seems to indicate that a parent calling their child in sick, using their own judgement, is no longer sufficient. The school wants professional proof that the child was sick. I won’t even get into all the unintended consequences of such a policy, such as incentivizing parents to send a sick child to school to spread their disease or driving up medical costs to parents to get a doctor’s note for a common cold or fever. It is clear that the school does not consider the parent the ultimate decision maker for the child.
Rockwood School District revealed yet another aspect of attendance at their Open House this fall. The schools no longer count just the number of times a child is tardy or late. They count “lost minutes of instruction.” That means that a running total of time missed AIS is accumulated throughout the year. If your child was late 10 minutes every day of the 180 day school year that would accrue to a 4.2 days of lost class time.
Some would argue that, well, that is lost instructional time the child might need. There are lots of kids who regularly miss a lot of school and the parents don’t seem to care. In addition, the late child can be disruptive to the class. That is not fair to the other students. Both statements are true, but are not addressed by the policy noted in the above letter.
No where in the policy letter is the academic effect of being late or absent addressed. What of the very competent child who has missed several days of school, for whatever reason, but who’s grades are still high? They are still subject to interventions because somebody outside the district has decided that one sign of commitment to education is now AIS. This is where we get to the “accountable to who and for what” question. The school is not accountable to the parents for things that the local community finds meaningful. They are accountable to a distant agency for things that agency has decided are important.
Such policies will soon become the bane of existence for schools who decide to adopt the flipped classroom approach. This is where the students receive much of their instruction at home, on-line and only attend school for a few seminars a week. The formula used to calculate time missed AIS will become much more complex, or the school will risk sending hundreds of meaningless warnings to parents whose children are in fact following protocol.
Superintendent Art McCoy of the Ferguson Florissant District was put on administrative leave over a disagreement with his board on his philosophy on attendance. He was not able to comment on the specifics at this time as it is an ongoing investigation, but the fact that he is being investigated by DESE for “irregular attendance reporting practices” might indicate that McCoy recognized the AIS policy in MSIP5 as meaningless bureaucratic busy work that did nothing to improve student academic performance. It was merely an easily measured metric, as is so much in education these days.
By the way, Debra was late and Ray did drive off without her in that episode. He didn’t go check on why she was late. If he had, he would have discovered that she got her hair stuck in her curling iron and was left struggling to figure out how to get it out on her own. Ray paid heavily for his zero tolerance policy with the frigid reception his wife gave him when he, in a state of intense guilt, returned home to get her. They managed to kiss and make up and stay together.
Parents, subjected to such stringent policies from school, may not remain committed to the relationship. They may decide home school is a more reasonable approach to education, one that puts the emphasis on the right thing, learning. There may be a lot fewer AISs in the public school future if they remain focused only on what can be quantitatively measured.