Student attendance improving districtwideDavid Mark Simpson , Staff Writer
Santa Monica Press
Posted: October 23, 2014
SMMUSD HDQRTRS — Attendance improved drastically in the district last year but Ed Board members still want to see more kids in class.
One in five kids missed less than two days of school last year, according to Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District officials. In the year prior, 2012-13, that number was closer to one in 10. And while 5.6 percent of the students in the district were absent for 10 percent of the last school year, that number was also cut in half from the year before.
District officials say that the implementation of a new attendance tracking system, Attention2Attendance, is a large part of that success.
Photo courtesy of Santa Monica Press – Education Section, EDU SAMO First day
Parents get letters home after their students have three, six, and nine unexcused absences or after seven and 14 excused absences.
At the secondary level, parents get a phone call when their kid misses a single class period.
The letters and phone calls, district officials say, are having an impact. About 62 percent of those who get a first letter don’t end up getting a second. Each year a smaller percentage of second notes are being sent home, said Health and Safety District Advisory Committee spokesperson Tara Brown.
About 3,500 students in the district missed three days without an excuse last year. Another 1,317 missed six days without an excuse. There were 309 students who had nine or more unexcused absences.
More than 1,400 students had seven or more excused absences and 275 had more than 14 excused absences.
The percentage of students with satisfactory or excellent attendance records jumped from 61 percent in 2012-13 to 76 percent last year.
The district scores better than the state average in these categories.
“This is our best result so far,” said Mark Kelly, executive director of Student and Professional Services.
Attendance is poor at the kindergarten and pre-K levels and improves substantially by first grade, the district’s data shows. From seventh grade on, attendance gets worse each year. College visits, district officials said, are not considered excused absences by the state.
Attendance records are about even among all ethnicities, Brown said.
Boardmember Nimish Patel asked about dates for which there are a lot of absences. Kelly noted that in the weeks leading up to Thanksgiving and Christmas they see substantial spikes in absences.
Boardmember Maria Leon-Vazquez suggested that, along with the current notification process for kids who are frequently absent, they should introduce an incentive program for kids who never miss a day.
Boardmember Oscar de la Torre suggested that they give out prizes, like a day pass to Pacific Park, to students who are never absent.
Kelly said the district is working on a program to recognize the most punctual students.
If the district recognized members of the Board of Education who are never absent, only Laurie Lieberman would have ridden the Ferris wheel for free last year. She never missed a meeting.
Leon-Vazquez missed only one of the 24 meetings but her absence was excused, according to meeting minutes.
Ralph Mechur missed a meeting and left one early.
Oscar de la Torre had two absences, one of which was excused.
Patel missed three full meetings (two of the absences were excused) and missed part of another.
Jose Escarce and Ben Allen topped the tardy list with four absences apiece, last year. Two of Escarce’s and three of Allen’s were excused. Allen missed a portion of three meetings. Escarce missed a portion of two.