Absenteeism is a problem in schools

Published 12:57 pm Wednesday, September 14, 2022

For the most part, schools in Prince Edward County meet state standards. There are a few categories that still need work, however, including one that has nothing to do with the classroom. That’s what the preliminary accreditation data from the state shows. As everyone waits for the state to release the data with more detail, district staff briefed the Prince Edward School Board Wednesday, Sept. 7 on what still needs improvement and what’s being done to address the issues.

The Virginia Department of Education decides if an individual school is accredited, or meets state standards, based on six categories. The state looks at a school’s English scores, English achievement gaps, math scores, math achievement gaps, science scores and if there is chronic absenteeism.

Now there are a few exceptions. Elementary schools, for example, aren’t judged on science scores because that test is first given in the fifth grade. And to give schools one more year to adjust post-pandemic, the state isn’t including chronic absenteeism in this year’s assessment.

So with that in mind, here’s what we know. One local school, Prince Edward Elementary, meets state standards. It’s accredited without any conditions. The same can’t be said for the county’s middle and high school. Both were accredited with conditions, meaning there were some issues.

SCHOOLS VS. ACCREDITATION

The preliminary data shows Prince Edward Elementary met or exceeded all of the state standards for English and math. Dr. Michelle Wallace, assistant superintendent of curriculum and instruction, told the board this was a reflection of work over the last two years.

“(We worked on) getting our curriculum straight, getting literacy plans in place, getting math plans in place, (plus) the efforts of tutoring our children to get them over the hump of missing what they missed during the pandemic,” Wallace said.

Things were a bit different at Prince Edward County Middle School.

“(The) middle school had its own set of challenges last year,” Wallace told the board. “Particularly with staffing and some with discipline, which does impact achievement.”

She pointed out the school was understaffed in some critical areas last year. That’s improved this semester, with less than a dozen unfilled positions across the entire district. Also, despite the school not fully meeting state standards, Wallace pointed out that the scores are improving.

“Is there still work to be done? Absolutely,” Wallace said.

Finally, when it comes to Prince Edward County High, the issue is science, where scores are below state standards.

AN ISSUE IN EVERY SCHOOL

The major problem, the one every school in Prince Edward County currently has, is chronic absenteeism. The state didn’t grade schools on absentee students for the last two years due to the pandemic. The same is true this year. But Wallace warned the board they can’t get the middle and high school accredited without conditions until this issue is fixed. And it’s not something the schools can do on their own.

“Our teachers are doing everything they can to get students to school,” Wallace said. “We’re calling them. We’re making home visits. We are going to the homes, we are knocking on the doors, we are giving them alarm clocks. We are picking them up if they let us know they need a ride if they miss the bus. We do what we can to get the kids to school.”

Wallace said the district needs parents to make sure students get to school.

“We can do all the great things with student achievement, but if kids don’t come to school and our absenteeism doesn’t improve, our schools will continue to be accredited with conditions,” she told the board.

What she and other district officials are asking for is community support. They’re asking churches to encourage attendance, along with any employers some of the older high school students have. The same goes for coaches or even family friends.

Wallace said the district works with the local Department of Social Services on the issue as well. In Virginia, parents can lose their EBT card and other benefits if they don’t send their children to school.