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Aurora Institute

CBE Problems of Practice: Attendance Requirements

CompetencyWorks Blog

Author(s): Chris Sturgis

Issue(s): Issues in Practice, Learn Lessons from the Field

This is the second in a series on problems of practice. (Check out the article on grading.) We are interested in hearing from readers about other problems of practice they’ve seen or are struggling with in implementation.

2. Removing attendance requirements. A few district leaders have argued that attendance requirements in a competency-based school are not necessary. They are wrong. Competency-based education is much more than making “time a variable” or “self-paced.” Its also about schools taking responsibility (accountability if you will) to make sure students fully master the skills and knowledge they need to be successful as thay make the transition to college, careers…and life.

Thus, districts that have removed attendance requirements in early stages of implementing competency education are missing some of the core concepts of competency-based education. We want to measure learning, not the amount of time students were in school. However, time is a variable doesn’t mean students don’t need to come to school. Time is a variable means that the effort to learn and the necessary instructional support will vary which may require more time and more resources.

When we signal to students that they don’t need to come to school (or in the community for extended learning) to learn, teachers and parents are rightly concerned that students are not learning the habits of work associated with being an effective learner.  In fact, in high quality competency-based schools, there should be a clear set of “success habits” or lifelong learning skills that include time management and being able to self-regulate so students can stay focused in their learning. Attendance is a reasonable indicator of a minimum level of engagement. However, we know that seat time does not guarantee learning. Thus, school attendance is necessary but not sufficient. We want students to be highly engaged and highly motivated. This means creating a vision for teaching and learning that takes all we know from the research on how to empower, motivate and engage students. Thus, districts should be focusing more on how to get students to want to come to school.

Getting Implementation Right: The important step here isn’t about attendance policies. It’s  about separating out academics and behaviors so students know where they are in their learning and that they can receive effective coaching in the building blocks of learning and the habits of success. There are two foundational capacities that are needed before a district or school separates out academics from behaviors in any grading or scoring system:

#1 Districts and schools need to put into place the strategy and capacity for how they are going to help students build lifelong learning skills and the habits of success.

#2 They will need to ensure that instruction is drawing on the science of learning to optimize student effort in the classroom through engagement and motivation.Teachers may need support in shifting from more traditional instructional approaches to those that build on students as active learners.

However, having attendance requirements doesn’t mean that a student that misses 9 days should not pass a class. Missing nine days is an indicator that there is some type of a problem and should be explored. It might be that trust has been broken and the student doesn’t feel respected or that they belong. Or there may be extenuating circumstances, such as caring for a sick family member or working to pay the rent. The increased flexibility of competency-based education should ensure students learn, provides more flexibility, and help students to learn to fulfill responsibilities. Students that keep coming to school when faced with enormous challenges should be recognized for taking responsibility and demonstrating perseverance, not penalized for missing class. The challenge of schools is to figure out how to personalize their learning so they can keep making progress.

The goal is to move beyond students coming to school because they have to and create schools that students want to come to because they are learning, supported in their learning, and have a sense of purpose to their lives.

Read the Entire Series: