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Nation/World

September 4, 2012

Attendance push prized by students, educators

BERKELEY, Calif. — School day wake-up calls recorded by celebrities. Weekend makeup classes. Contests with laptop computers, private concerts and cars as prizes.

Educators across the nation are using creative strategies as another school year gets under way to convince students and parents that regular attendance matters — and not just for grades and achievement.

New research suggests missing as little as two weeks of school can put young children behind their peers, burden overworked teachers, cost districts state dollars and undermine mandates to raise standardized test scores. So many public school districts have launched campaigns to reduce all absences, not just those serious enough to warrant a home visit from a truant officer.

“Students who are getting a ‘B’ and are OK with a ‘B,’ they think it’s in their rights to skip school now and then,” said Berkeley High School Attendance Dean Daniel Roose, who offered a movie night to the grade level boasting the best attendance last semester. “I’ve tried to challenge those kids and their families to change the mindset that you aren’t impacting anyone but yourself when you skip.”

The rewards are designed to supplement courts, mentors and other interventions for addressing serious truancy. They direct attention to what education experts call “chronic absenteeism,” which applies to students who miss 10 percent of their classes for any reason and may even have parental permission to be out of school.

To counter slumping attendance that tends to worsen as adolescents get older, about 200 middle and high schools in 17 states will be competing this fall in a challenge organized by Get Schooled, a New York-based nonprofit that uses computer games, weekly wake-up recordings from popular singers and actors, and social media messages to get students to show up in the name of school spirit.

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