Modify Compulsory Attendance Policy to Provide for Greater Flexibility

School districts should modify their compulsory attendance policies to provide for greater flexibility for dealing with the needs of individual students.


Background
In 1984, in response to concern that public education was not meeting students needs, the Legislature passed House Bill 72, which emphasized academic achievement. The bill increased graduation requirements and instituted a competency test that students must pass before graduating. The bill also created the no pass/no play rule and f ive-day absence rule.

Under the five-day absence rule, students were not allowed more than five unexcused absences during a semester. If they had more, they received a failing grade. The 71st Legislature repealed the five-day absence policy. Instead, it required students to attend class at least 80 days during a semester to receive course credit. 1

The statute also requires each school board to appoint one or more attendance committees, which may give credit to students who went to school less than 80 days because of extenuating circumstances. Local school boards are charged with establishing guidelines defining what constitutes extenuating circu mstances and setting up alternative ways for students to make up work or regain credit lost due to absences. 2

Students may appeal to the school board if the attendance committee denies credit. There is also a provision for further appeal if the board denies the student credit. 3

While the emphasis on school attendance is important, the policy may adversely affect at-risk students. Some students who miss the first two weeks of school because they think they want to quit may have a change of heart and de cide to return to school. The attendance policy in some cases discourages students from returning because they know they will not receive credit even if they miss anymore days of school.

Once an entire semester has passed, it is difficult for some students to return to school. When a course is failed early in the semester, a student is usually precluded from taking the course until the following year. A Texas Education Agency (TEA) study f ound, through interviews, that when this occurs, most students leave, either temporarily or permanently. 4

Generally, attendance is an important factor in overall student performance. However, it appears that in some instances the 80-day attendance law may have unintentionally caused more at-risk students to drop out.

More flexibility is needed because the compulsory attendance policy may increase the likelihood that at-risk students drop out. An increase in dropouts could adversely affect both the social service system and the criminal justice system.


Recommendation
The Commissioner of Education should encourage local school districts to develop more flexible policies for students who attend school for less than 80 days per semester.

School district policies should emphasize performance instead of attendance.

Implications
Reducing the number of school dropouts could reduce future state spending on the criminal justice system, since more than 60 percent of new arrivals in Texas prisons have not completed high school. It could also lower future expenditures for the social service system if more at-risk students finish high school. Reducing the number of at-risk students who ultimately drop out of school could mean that state public education funding would cost more, since all state funds flow to schools based on num bers of students in attendance.


Fiscal Impact
The fiscal impact of this recommendation cannot be determined. Overall, the benefit of providing the best possible education to all students far outweighs the possible costs. State spending for public educa tion could increase since the recommendation may increase the number of students. However, future state funding for the criminal justice system and social services could decrease as the number of high school dropouts who are more likely to become involved in crime or rely on public assistance also declines.



Endnotes
1 Texas Education Code, Section 21.041 (a).
2 Texas Education Code, Section 21.041 (b).
3 Texas Education Code, Section 21.041 (d).
4 Texas Education Agency, An Interim Report on a Study of the Impact of Educational Reform on Students in At-Risk Situations in Texas. Phase III Evaluation Report (Austin, Texas, 1992), p. 9.

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