September 4, 2023 - 9:00 pm
Attendance is so low in the Clark County School District that its officials are resorting to the obvious solution.
Last week, Mike Barton, the district’s chief college, career, equity and school choice officer, gave the school board an update on chronic absenteeism. The Nevada Department of Education deems a student as chronically absent if he or she misses 10 percent or more of the school year. Last year, 36 percent of district students met the definition. That’s a slight improvement from the 39.8 percent rate of the 2021-22 school year. Both rates are much higher than pre-pandemic years. In the 2018-19 school year, the rate was 21.9 percent.
The numbers are worst among African American students (46 percent) and Native American students (45 percent). The rate among Hispanic students was 39 percent. Asian American students did the best. Just 17.3 percent were chronically absent.
Little wonder that the district’s proficiency rates are so low. Just 41.1 percent of elementary students are proficient in reading. In math, it’s under 32 percent. Older students aren’t doing much better. English and math proficiency rates among high school students are 44 percent and 19.7 percent, respectively. As the nation learned during the pandemic, it’s hard to educate students who don’t show up.
Unsurprisingly, there’s a strong connection between absences and lower achievement. The proficiency rate in English among Asian fourth graders is 62.5 percent. Among African American fourth graders, it’s 24.3 percent. Almost 56 percent of Asian fourth graders are proficient in math. Among Black fourth graders, it’s 14.6 percent.
Anyone who’s followed Superintendent Jesus Jara’s tenure can see the tragic irony. In his quest to eliminate policies that produced racial disparities, he’s entrenched racial disparities in achievement.
For instance, two years ago, Mr. Jara dumbed down the district’s grading system in multiple ways. That included a prohibition on grading based on “nonacademic measures” such as “attendance.” Translated: Teachers couldn’t flunk students who didn’t show up. And because students under the new grading system received 50 percent credit on missed assignments, many realized they could skip most of their classes and pass anyway.
The district may finally be coming to its senses. A separate district policy allows schools to retain elementary students who exceed 20 unapproved absences. In high school, students can be denied class credit for missing too much time.
“We as a system, looking very hard at what we’re doing, know that we can do better with system compliance with our own regulations,” Mr. Barton said during the meeting.
That’s bureaucrat-speak for “maybe we should impose consequences on students for not showing up.” It’s about time.