A for Attendance

Ellen Hancock, Writer

If teachers ever want teenagers to stop acting like they deserve better grades than what they’ve earned, then they should stop giving points for something as basic as attendance.

In several classes I’ve taken, albeit not many, the teacher counted the number of days each student showed up to class that semester and gave them a grade based on the percent of the total days for which that student was present, regardless of whether their absences were excused or not. Why any educator would choose to do this boggles my mind.

First, let’s consider what an excused absence is. An excused absence means that, for whatever reason, a student could not attend class, and the district empathized with them enough to understand that they should not be considered truant for such an absence. Whether it be an illness, appointment, or family emergency, the school understands that there are times when students simply cannot be expected to show up, and that’s okay.

Grading based on attendance is inherently different from completion or participation, which are also common methods of earning points in classes. Completion grades, even though they seem super easy to earn, are appropriate for assignments when students are merely practicing a skill that’s still new to them, such as daily math homework. Participation grades ensure that students don’t sign up for classes just to lazily sit there and put forth minimal effort, which unfortunately happens all too often in AP classes. An attendance grade says “congratulations, you showed up, and that’s all that’s expected of you!”

When teachers dock points for missing school, students receive the subliminal message that although they’re not technically truant, there is still something fundamentally wrong with not going to school once in a while, regardless of what extenuating circumstances may exist. This might prompt someone with a contagious disease to infect others just because they care about doing well in a class. A human being with feelings going a family crisis might force him or herself to be physically present at school even though they are mentally unwell. In extreme cases, someone with a chronic illness might have no choice but to drop a class because the amount of school that they would miss would ruin their grade, even if they made up all the work that was assigned when they were gone.

To all you teachers out there, I get it – missing school and making up the work later is not the optimal way to learn. You can copy the notes you missed from a friend, but it isn’t as good as hearing the original lecture. You can make up a quiz during seminar or after school, but depending on the schedules of the students and teachers involved, it might take a week or two before this can happen. But students who work proactively to make up the work they missed shouldn’t face a punishment just because it wasn’t practical for them to show up to school one day.

All I ask is that we shift our focus to what’s really important at school: learning. Different grading systems make sense for different classes, but no matter which assignments are weighted the most or graded the strictest, grades should reflect how well students mastered the content they were supposed to know, not how often they caught the flu or how many dentist appointments they attended.