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New policy improves attendance at OHS

February 06, 2013 - Show up for class and you don't have to take a final exam.

Oxford High School's attendance incentive is quite simple and it seems to be working well.

A state report released this month showed a 94.6 percent daily attendance average as compared to 87 percent in 2009, according to OHS Principal Todd Dunckley.

"I'll have to look at the rest of the county, but if we're not the highest in the county for attendance, I'll be shocked," said Dunckley.

Because, OHS was seeing such a high number of students either missing class or being tardy in 2010-11, officials decided to change their attendance policy.

Implemented in 2011-12, the way the new policy works is if a student has three or less absences in a class, has never been suspended, and has a passing grade or better, the student will be exempt from the final exam in that class.

A student who's exempt from finals, but still wants to improve their grade may choose to take the exam. However, if they do poorly on it, it will not hurt their grade in the class.

Under the policy, every three tardies for a class is equals one absence.

The policy was changed this year to define a passing grade as at least 68 percent (D+). Also, new this year is if a student attends the funeral of an immediate family member, the absence will not count against them. However, if a student is sick, injured or traveling out of town, absences will still count against them.

According to the stats put out by the school, the two biggest absences were seen in first and fifth periods. During first period in 2010-11, there was 2,452 absences in the first semester. That dropped to 1,290 in 2011-12 and 1,175 in 2012-13. For fifth period, there was 2,521 absences in 2010-11. That dropped to 1,043 in 2011-12 and to 1,009 in 2012-13.

The most tardies were first and third period. First period had 2,054 for 2010-11. That decreased to 1,290 for 2011-2012 and to 1,175 in 2012-13. Third period had 927 tardies in 2010-11. That fell to 650 in 2011-12 and 442 for 2012-13. Tardy referrals also dropped from 198 in the first semester of 2011 to 94 in 2012.

The number of students exempted from the final exam in the first semester of 2011 went up from 78 percent (1138 out of 1457 students) to 80.5 percent (1162 out of 1443 students).

Dunckley said the policy is similar to the one he had in Kalkaska when he first started teaching. "Our attendance problems were nonexistent. I just figured that's how schools work," he said. "I took my first job after that and I was like 'What do you mean your kids don't always come to school and they're not always in class?' I don't get that."

The whole idea of providing an incentive is to get kids in school, added Dunckley.

"It's twofold. Number one to make sure the kid is there. Like anything else when you do it repetitiously that's what makes it set in," he said. "(Having the) face-to-face ability to ask questions and (receive) a verbal explanation from a human being is much better than written notes."

Along with that said Dunckley is a "class dynamic and culture climate." Teaching, he said, is not just lecturing anymore. Classes have a lot more group interaction projects.

"When people are gone, it not only messes up the person that is gone, it messes up the group they're working with," he added. "(It especially hurts) classes like science where recreating a lab is almost impossible."

While many feel a final exam is the only way to assess if a student has learned the material, Dunckley said, "it's not a fair judgment," which is why they do so many interaction projects.

"You assess all the time. You create a variety of these opportunities throughout the year," he said. "(With a final exam) you're not going to truly assess everything and you're not really going to see if they can apply, analyze, synthesize and so on and so forth. You're going to get a lot of recall."

Why is the incentive rate so low at 68 percent? Dunckley said the low incentive rate is aimed at students who aren't doing well academically. It's a way to try to keep them in school as opposed to just quitting and dropping out.

"These are kids that have mostly E's trying to get some D's," he said. "It's a safe harbor, but to get them to try, we've got to give them a carrot that means something."

If the incentive was only for students with A/B grades like other schools offer, they would see a lot of students throwing in the towel because it appears to be a mountain they can't climb, according to Dunckley.

"We've got to give a small slope," added Dunckley. "While the standard is one for all, the other kids (who are getting A/B) are already over the other side of the mountain. We're not even worried about A/B (students)."

Dunckley said it wasn't until he started teaching that he realized "the variety" of the student population. Many of the at-risk students he said come from what he described as "TV show backgrounds," where home-life conditions are so rough that thoughts of school outside of the building are nonexistent.

"School is the farthest thing (from their minds). Right now, they're in a survival mode. That's what we're dealing with," he said. "Once they leave here, bad things happen to a lot of those kids."

Every year, Oxford will reassess where they are and determine if the bar should be set higher than 68 percent, said Dunckley.

"We are collaborative in our decisions," he said. "Our building goals for next year will be made by the staff, not by me."

Trevor graduated with degrees in English and communications from Rochester College. He wrote for his college and LA View newspapers before joining The Clarkston News in May 2007.
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