How Does Attendance Translate to a Grade?

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One of the many joys of this season is catching up with "my" college kids. As we discussed finals and how the semester ended out, one of the girls expressed frustration with her Chemistry course. "I'd already had that class twice, once in high school and last year," she complained. "But the school wouldn't let me test out of it. Worse, 16% of my grade was based on attendance. Why did I have to go to the class when I already knew everything? What a waste."

For some students, the answer would be that they don't really know everything about Chemistry. But in this case, I'm confident she's right. Spending time with brilliant kids opens up a new world of frustrations, the likes of which I only moderately experienced in Christian Thought I. "That's lame," I agreed. Homeschooling gets around this problem by letting us spend our time teaching our kids new content. When they get it, we move on. No sense wasting time.

Not being as brilliant as this girl--and personally enjoying routine--I loved classes that rewarded me for showing up. I was paying money to go to class, so why skip it? Why? Because sometimes you're forced to take a class that doesn't teach you anything new. This is far more a failure of the inflexible school system than anything, but it underscores the beauty of learning at home. We can focus on the stuff that matters.

Just Showing Up

Showing up is an important skill in life. But showing up for things that matter... that's even more important.

So why do schools use attendance as part of the grade calculation?

1. To keep tabs on kids. The habit of taking roll starts earlier in life when teachers are tasked with keeping track of their wards. If a child goes missing, that's a problem. Knowing who's there and who isn't is critical. Schools also have a financial incentive and legal requirement to keep kids around. Truancy is a pretty big deal. These elements do not translate well to adults paying for an education or families where parents know if Susie or Johnny isn't at home.

2. To reward those who show up. There are a few jobs that pay you just for getting yourself bodily to a certain location. But most employers expect you to do more than simply show up. I can see an argument that for some classes--especially those built around discussion or in-class activities--have reason to take attendance. I would suggest, however, that keeping track of student contribution would be a better measure of interaction than simply being present. As the parent, you know how much your child has done.

3. To give students more opportunities to learn the content. There is a correlation between attendance and grades. And who wants to teach to an empty room? I get that part of teachers' discussions of how to improve class attendance. But attendance should benefit students because they are gaining knowledge by being there, not simply because they sat in their chair. Focus on imparting knowledge and leave the bench warming to take care of itself.

Of course, you're probably not teaching a college class. And you may be required by your state to provide attendance records. If that is the case, one way to keep track is to put your completion date for each assignment in your Instructor's Guide. Then you have a record that makes it relatively easy to count up the days your child "attended" school.

Did school attendance incentives help you? Were there classes you wished you could have skipped? How do you keep track of attendance in your homeschool?

 ~Luke Holzmann
Filmmaker, Writer, Empty Nester

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