Why no more online absence forms?

Significance of students’ attendance percentage for Lane’s rating

By Finley Williams and Anahi Mosquera

Online absence forms no longer excuse a student’s absence, but only notify teachers, according to a Jan. 9 email introducing Lane’s new attendance policy.

For Chloe Walsh, Div. 151, this was a sudden change. After a three-day absence due to a sports competition, she completed the online absence form only to discover that it did not reduce her demerits.

“I don’t understand at all why they did that, because when they implemented the online form, it was so easy and progressive,” Walsh said.

According to Assistant Principal Mrs. Thompson, in addition to being district policy, this change is also a safety issue; students’ locations must be verified and accurately accounted for at all times.

“Sometimes kids have their parent’s email or their parent’s password, and sometimes you don’t know if that kid is submitting it or if it’s really the parent, so we have to make sure we’re doing everything for the safety of students,” Thompson said.

Instead of using the online form for absence excusal, students must turn in an official note the day after the absence with both parent and teacher signatures. This form can be printed from the attendance page on Lane’s website or found in the Attendance Office.

But this is not the only change in Lane’s dealings with attendance. Because of its falling attendance rates (94.4 percent in 2017 to 93.6 percent in 2018, according to CPS.org) — which may adversely impact its 1+ rating — the school has used posters to encourage higher attendance.

The posters range from Key and Peele skits to simple statements that “Attendance Matters,” as well as lists of students with no absences or tardies posted outside the Attendance Office.

According to Student Advocate and Attendance Clerk Ms. Campos, the posters are diffusing an important message.

“Attendance matters because it’s just a central part of everyday life,” Campos said. “When you’re present, not only in school, in sports, with your family, social life — in order to make a difference or an impact with what you want to do, you have to be present.”

Walsh said most students grasp the social and academic importance of attending school, but the posters do not accurately convey this. She said she perceives the attendance push as primarily related to funding.

“Schools are ranked and attendance is a portion of that, and the higher we’re ranked, I’m guessing the more funded we are,” Walsh said.

While attendance does not directly impact funding, there is a connection. Schools are rated either Level 1+, 1, 2+, 2, or 3 (with 1+ being the best) based on several factors (SAT growth rate; college enrollment and persistence rate; and the My School, My Voice survey, among other things).

The most heavily weighted factor, at 12.5 percent, is attendance. If a school’s attendance drops, its rating may follow.

“It’s not linked to funding, but it does link to how people view us,” Thompson said. “Most people don’t want to send their children to a Level 3 school. Most people are trying to get their children into Level 1+ schools because those are considered the good schools.”

But because all CPS schools receive the same dollar amount per student, a school’s funding fluctuates based upon its total enrollment, which can be impacted by its rating.

“Lane is in a good position because it’s so huge and a lot of people want to come here,” Thompson said. “But when you have a school where a lot of people are not necessarily vying to get in that location, it can be a struggle if you don’t have enough kids to fund your school.”

Although maintaining the school’s reputation and 1+ rating is a high priority, Thompson also noted the importance of individual students.

“Most of the time, I believe that how [attendance] affects that individual student is so much more important than how it’s necessarily going to affect the school rating,” Thompson said. “But I am extremely concerned about our school rating. It’s a reflection of who we are, a picture of who we are as a school. It’s not the full story, but it does give a glimpse into who we are as a school.”