STAMFORD – After Matthew Laskowski joined the school district’s Central Office last year, he saw what many administrators were seeing across the country.
Student absenteeism, which more than doubled during COVID-19, remained high post-pandemic.
Laskowski, a secondary school administrator, and others in the Central Office examined the data. They found that a good number of high school students who were chronically absent were passing their classes, often with A’s and B’s.
There was another issue, Laskowski said.
“Students were passing their classes, but losing class credits,” which determine whether they can graduate, Laskowski said. “These students were mastering the curriculum and earning a passing grade, but they weren’t getting credit for the class.”
It’s because of a district regulation that mandates that a high schooler who gets to class 10 minutes late or more, without a pass, be charged with an unexcused absence.
It means that a student who arrives at an 88-minute class 11 minutes late is counted as absent, even if the student attends for the remaining 77 minutes.
Beyond that, Laskowski said, “if a student arrives two minutes late and doesn’t have a pass, it counts as an ‘unexcused tardy,’ and four unexcused tardies is equal to one unexcused absence. So the regulation is directly related to the absentee rate.”
That, Laskowski said, “created an urgency for us to look deeper.”
‘We have to move forward’
More data analysis, surveys, and discussions with district educators resulted in a report that Laskowski presented to a Board of Education committee Tuesday night. The report recommends changing the student tardiness regulation.
Superintendent Tamu Lucero told committee members she wanted feedback on the regulation change, even though it does not require Board of Education approval. The board approves policies, not regulations.
“We have to continue to find the right supports that make children want to go to class. What’s in place now might not be doing that,” Lucero said. “I will have more conversations with my cabinet then make a decision. We have to move forward with something.”
Laskowski, whose title is director of access and opportunity for secondary schools, presented data showing that, among the 7,111 high school students who exceeded the absence limit for a class in the last school year, 13 percent earned an A or A-.
The data shows that 18 percent earned some level of a B grade; 19 percent earned a C; nearly 19 percent earned a D; and 30 percent failed.
So 70 percent of the students who exceeded the attendance limit earned a passing grade, Laskowski told the committee.
Under the proposed new regulation, loss of class credit would not be tied to tardiness.
“We want the focus to be on what students have learned and what they know, not how long they were in class,” Laskowski said Wednesday.
Late, later, latest
The proposal would define tardiness at three levels: “T” level is up to 14 minutes late for class; “T15” is 15 to 29 minutes late; and “T30” is 30 to 44 minutes late.
Students would be marked absent if they are late by 45 minutes or more, Laskowski said. That is tied to a state law that defines attendance as being in class at least 50 percent of the time.
“Most (classes) are 88 minutes long, so if the student hits the 44-minute mark, they are no longer in attendance by state law,” Laskowski said.
Having teachers report degrees of tardiness will help them and parents understand more about what is happening with students, he said.
“If they show up, no matter now late, we will know they were in the building,” which is important for safety reasons, Laskowski said.
During the meeting, Board of Education member Josh Esses said he thinks the proposed regulation would not have “a positive effect on learning.”
It “sends the wrong message for showing up for class,” Esses said.
“The provision is not suggesting that we are OK with kids missing class,” Laskowski said. “We want to find out why. And we are saying that the loss of credit should be tied to academic performance instead of attendance.”
“There is an expectation that students be in school. Our goal is to find the right carrot to get them to come to school,” the superintendent said. “We have more than 900 students who earned an A or an A- who did not get credit. That may not be what we want to do here.”
‘An imperfect regulation’
Stamford’s chronic absentee rate last school year was 22.5 percent, higher than the state rate of 20 percent. It means more than one in five Stamford students is habitually absent.
Students are considered chronically absent if they miss more than 10 percent – or 18 days – of school during the 180-day year.
Last year’s absentee rate was an improvement over the previous school year, when it was 24.4 percent. The rate had not dropped year-to-year since 2016-17, when it was much lower, 8.9 percent.
Stamford Public Schools spokesperson Kathleen Steinberg said Wednesday the existing regulation can use an overhaul.
“A student can be 12 minutes late 1o times, missing 120 minutes of instruction, and under the rule not get credit for the class,” Steinberg said. “Another student could fail to show up nine times and miss 810 minutes of instruction and get the credit. So there is an inequity. It’s an imperfect regulation as written.”
Board of Education member Jackie Pioli said Wednesday she fully supports the proposed change.