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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  1. Sorry. It's just about keeping that kid's butt in the chair and the money they get from the state. If you think it's because they "care," you're sadly mistaken.

    I'm not saying there aren't teachers who care, just that that is NOT the reason for the attendance requirements. It's about employing people and making the district look good on paper. Here in Kansas City, a curfew was recently passed. Homeschooled children will be legally grilled by any officer at any time without any cause during "school hours." Children will be forced into paddywagons and parents will pay court fines and the like if they are "truant."

    It's really not about the kids; it's an industry.

  2. Good point, Mrs. C. The industry is totally what drives attendance. However, I think--as you mention-- that there are teachers who care and see student attendance as important to success... but the requirements are, I agree, driven by the money and legal requirements (which is why I opened with those very points). Thanks for jumping in here and giving your insights from where you are. The truancy thing is crazy to me. But my high school had a 50% attrition rate, so I could see my state enacting a similar law... missing the driving force entirely should they do so. <sigh>


  3. Here's the thing though. You can care all day long, and we saw teachers who cared with their very lives in Newtown. It doesn't follow that the rules are right or that the union is good (which was actually argued... some people actually said that all educational critics now need to SHUT UP).

    I think also the same is true when we talk of what we do as homeschoolers. I could spend 5 hours doing English with a certain student and it might not go as far as two hours in another subject (if that makes sense). Do we want evenly developing students or do we specialize our kids at an early age? Another post perhaps, but I find myself specializing my child already and not focusing (but still covering) required subjects in other areas. :)

  4. Sorry, Mrs. C, you made a jump that I didn't follow. Who argued the teachers union is good? How does this tie into attendance? I'm missing the connection. Sorry for being so slow on the uptake here! I agree with you that it does not follow that the rules are right or that the union is a good thing (there have been several high profile documentaries that paint a radically different picture of that <smile>).

    Perhaps I'm again missing your point, but I would argue--as I tried to do a bit in my post above--that the only way to "evenly develop" a student is to specialize. It took me years to learn how to read, but I picked up math quickly. It would have been a waste--and a discouragement--to spend equal times on reading and math. Far better to use homeschooling's flexibility to help our children excel in all areas, even if that means relaxing a bit when they are "behind" or letting them tackle material not available to them in a classroom setting.


  5. Ohhhh the "jump" is a very small one and I think you got what I was saying. It was that the rules aren't really tied to "results." But people want certain results and so they make certain rules.

    And. Just because someone is good (union person, Christian, whatever) doesn't mean that the union or God or whathaveyou is now above discussion. Right? But yes, that is pretty much what was argued in the comments section at joannejacobs blog awhile back, that because these Newtown teachers were in a union, all those reform-minded people just need to shut up. Crazy nutjobs pop out of the woodwork sometimes. :)

  6. Gotcha. Yes, may we always be open to learning more and seeing more clearly.