Are more kids playing hooky since school moved online?

Published: May. 11, 2020 at 5:43 PM EDT
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Vermont students in kindergarten through 12th grade have been working remotely for almost two months now. We've shown you what that looks like, but how is their attendance shaping up? Our Olivia Lyons has been gathering data from supervisory unions and districts across the state. Here's what she learned.

I reached out to over 50 superintendents last week. I've heard back from about a dozen. Most say because the format for gauging attendance is drastically different from district to district, it's like comparing apples to oranges.

"The idea that those are comparable in any way is not the case," said Barrett Williams, the superintendent of the Rivendell Interstate School District.

In the Rivendell district, an email, phone call or Zoom meeting each day proves participation.

"Kids can wake up now, send an email and go back to bed. And then do their work whenever it's convenient for them. So in some ways, it works for some kids and others, I think, it is more challenging," Williams said.

According to a memorandum written by Vermont Secretary of Education Dan French, schools should continue to take daily attendance. If a student makes some form of contact with their teacher or educational support staff, they are counted as present that day.

"Attendance is again, that daily contact. It's a pretty low bar," said Adam Rosenberg, the superintendent of the Orleans Southwest Union. "Engagement is more, is the student engaged in their learning?"

In the Orleans Southwest Union, attendance is tracked by daily contact with an adult or assignment submission. Those numbers are not far off from in-school numbers. But the union is placing more of an emphasis on student engagement where they see a decrease in student involvement.

"We're looking at this remote learning as a real opportunity in a way to move from the very conventional model of now here's a packet, do this worksheet and submit it-- to how do you want to target the proficiencies?" Rosenberg said.

"We've done a lot of things to try to keep them engaged and liking it," said Paul Lasher, a fifth-grade teacher at the Hinesburg Community School.

To keep up student engagement and the silly normalcy he brings to his classroom, Lasher posts a trivia question and dresses up as characters every day.

If 80% of his students are doing their work, he does something fun like cutting his hair into a mohawk or getting pied in the face. At the Hinesburg Community School, the teachers record which students engaged with them that week and record attendance on Friday.

"I have a class of 20 kids," Lasher said. "I've had one kid I've marked absent through the whole time, so it's been pretty well attended for the most part."

Many schools say attendance is up this spring, but they also say because the requirement is different, the data is difficult to compare.

Most elementary schools I heard from have about 90% student attendance or higher.

Meanwhile, high school attendance is down. One reported a drastic change from about 90% to 70%.

Education Secretary Dan French was not available on Monday. But his department hasn't collected spring attendance data yet.

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