Colin McNickle: Attendance matters to students, schools | TribLIVE.com
Featured Commentary

Colin McNickle: Attendance matters to students, schools

Colin McNickle
1544935_web1_gtr-cmns-McNickle-081919

The nexus between school attendance and academic performance is well established. In general, the better a student’s attendance is, the better that student’s academic results. And, of course, the better the respective school’s attendance rate and academic results.

But an updated analysis of Pittsburgh Public Schools by a scholar at the Allegheny Institute for Public Policy shows the district lost ground on these metrics between the 2012-13 and 2017-18 school years.

“Overall, during the five-year period there was attendance improvement in a small fraction of schools — nine of 50 — but 28 of 50 posted attendance rate declines while 13 held fairly close to the 2012-13 level,” says Jake Haulk, president emeritus and a senior adviser.

The attendance rate essentially is the percentage of days attended out of total school days if no days were missed. As an example, if a school has 100 students, there are 18,000 possible student days, based on a 180-day school calendar. If the students at the school missed a combined 1,000 days (10 days average per student), the attendance rate is 17,000 divided by 18,000 or 94.4%.

Haulk examined 50 Pittsburgh Public Schools (K-12, with five not included because of special factors and one that had no 2012-13 data).

Broken down by group, among the 21 K-5 schools, 12 saw attendance declines over the five years, one saw an increase and eight were relatively static for an average attendance rate of 93.5% or 12 absences per student per year.

At the same time, the average number of K-5 students scoring proficient or higher in English in 2017-18 was 47% (based on PSSA scores) with six schools scoring slightly above the state average of 63%.

Pittsburgh’s public schools averaged 34.9% proficiency in math with six above the state average of 45%. Six were under 20% while four were under 15.5%. (Do note the averages were held down because of exceptionally poor scores in the very large Philadelphia public schools.)

In the K-8 group, nine schools recorded lower attendance rates, four remained close to 2012-13 while no school posted an improved rate. The average for the 13 schools fell from 93.9% to 92.6%.

But only 44.7% and 27.7% scored proficient or advanced in English and math, respectively. Only three K-8 schools were at or above the state average for those subjects. Six K-8 schools had math and English scores far below statewide averages.

While seven schools in the grades 6-8 grouping fared best in attendance rate changes from 2012-13 to 2017-18 — four improved and three fell — test results were very weak. No school reached the state average in math or English.

“Five of the schools had proficient scorers of fewer than 20% with the highest of the seven schools reaching only 31.4%,” Haulk says.

Of the five schools making up the 6-12 group, two schools showed attendance improvement, two experienced declines and one held steady. And what a study in contrasts.

In the final grouping — encompassing four traditional 9-12 high schools — attendance was split with the average 2017-18 attendance rising to 86.3 from the 2012-13 average of 85.6. But that still means average per-student absences of 26 days.

“It is clear that the attendance rate at many schools that are 93% or below is still a significant problem,” Haulk concludes.

Colin McNickle is communications and marketing director at the Allegheny Institute for Public Policy and can be reached via email.

TribLIVE commenting policy

You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.

We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.

While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.

We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers

We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.

We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.

We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.

We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.