As we are nearing the end of the third school year of the P.A.S.S. program it is beneficial to evaluate the standards and practices which have been set forth through the past three years and determine the efficacy of them. In accordance with the Pennsylvania Standards for Elementary and secondary education school principals (January 2001), data driven assessment of the policies is due. The need for implementation of best practices, be they new or accepted older models is especially great given the proven success of the P.A.S.S. program which has resulted in the proposal for expansion of enrolment and services to meet a greater demand within the local district.
The establishment of best practices for the future is the goal of the current assessment. Since its inception the P.A.S.S. program has used a program completion option strategy with at-risk students attending classes at Howell School. Students completed courses and received credit for those courses upon completion without punitive consequences regarding attendance. Due to the nature of the challenges of at-risk students P.A.S.S. has attempted to maintain flexibility with regards to the demands and limitations placed on students. Focusing more on completion of coarse work and less on a punitive response to poor attendance, credit was not denied due to excessive student absences, P.A.S.S. has attempted to model team building through cultivating a school culture that above all promotes learning for the at-risk student. (PA Standards 2001)
The ability for alternative schools to establish and implement policies on attendance and other behavioral issues differing from state and local guidelines is addressed in district attendance policies as per N.J.A.C. 6:8-7.1(d) 2 which contains language that allows some discretion upon the part of the institution to tailor the attendance policy to the needs of the particular course work and student population as per the local district's identification of a need for differentiation within a program.
District guidelines recognize attendance as a crucial issue for the development of best practices in alternative education.
In the development of a new school there are many inherent conflicts, concerns and opportunities. In the following quote many of those issues are addressed and the are also a fitting start for this analysis as it covers many of the diverse reasons for data driven and best practice assessments.
Graham describes many of the practical problems in starting a new school, such as construction and enlisting personnel. But her highest priority is meeting the five needs of the students: to belong, to be secure, to have power, to have freedom, and to have fun (other schools have typically fallen short in meeting the last three). The school combines both the "hard" approaches to education (testing, teacher assessment) and the "soft" approaches (creating a caring environment, treating students as family). Last, she describes the human conflicts that had to be addressed: resolving disagreements within the board of directors, obtaining parental involvement, appropriate discipline for students, and being accountable to the community. (Hakim, Ryan & Stull, 2000, p. 14)
District directives have been offered for guidance in the goal of assessing the needs for policy change continually within the alternative education setting.
Attendance is a crucial element in alternative education programs, and must be addresses thoroughly during program development. Consequently, districts will have to examine the effects of their current attendance policies on at-risk students. Then they must consider the need to modify those policies based on information obtained. (Phillipsburg District Alternative School Directives 1999)
Additionally the directives make clear that any change must consider both the special needs of the student population in the program and the traditional state attendance restrictions.
Districts are encouraged to develop attendance policies for alternative education programs that clearly reflect the needs of the students while complying with state attendance requirements and to assess, on a continual basis, the appropriateness of those policies for at-risk students in their districts. In addition, attendance policies should reflect the general philosophy of the alternative education program and support the overall purpose, goals, and objectives of that program. (Phillipsburg District Alternative School Directives 1999)
The program completion option, which is based on proficiency, rather than attendance is a part of the accepted standards and practices set forth by the district and is especially appropriate for the needs of at-risk students. Recognizing the roles of students, parents, teachers and administrators as team members, students who experienced difficulties with school attendance have been individually addressed using attendance letters, parent conferences; 5-day notices, court action, and a privilege denial form of behavior modification had been implemented.
Average daily attendance for the past three years has maintained a steady 80%-85% from month to month. Yet, the recognized correlation between grade point average, credits earned, and in behavioral measures such as attendance, suspensions, and related misconduct has led the program to set a higher attendance goal. The desired outcome of the P.A.S.S. Program Attendance Policy is to increase the average daily attendance to 90% with the intended goal being a marked increase of student performance based on greater completion rates, higher grade point averages and an overall more effective learning environment.
The difference between 85% and 90% attendance can easily make the difference between success and failure in a student's academic career. As pointed out in a condensed article published by the National Association of Elementary School Principals (2002) "Missing 30 hours of instruction impacts a student's academic performance. A Minneapolis study in 2000 found that students who were in class 95% of the time were twice as likely to P.A.S.S. state language-arts tests as students with attendance rates of 85%." (NAESP 2002)
Keeping in mind the special needs of at-risk students as per the PA standard I.B. And I.C. this assessment and proposal will attempt to establish a collaborative plan of action between current overall district attendance policy for the high school level and the special needs of the student body. The guide listed N.J.A.C. 6:19 A-1.4, requires the maintenance of a program completion option, which requires any results of this assessment and proposal must allow program completion as the primary factor for the successful completion of the program. A secondary goal meeting PA Standard I.C. And I.F. Of a collaborative effort between the team members of the decision making body including; students, parents, teachers, administrators, school board and community members.
Review of literature:
review of current research and literature as per PA Standards I.I. performance-based use of current research and best practices on the subject of alternative school participation and attendance will address the issue of both proposed and established best practices for both the nation and also the local district and schools. Regional differences do exist, yet meeting the needs of students at high risk for non-completion is a universal problem the consideration of which is consistent with the goals of the P.A.S.S. program and its governing community.
Alternative schools for the education of at risk students have been in existence for just over thirty years and replaced older less productive penal institutions. Hefner-Packer (1991) define alternative as separate schools, which focus on non-traditional models and strategies that help, promote learning and social responsibility. The student body of alternative schools is often comprised of students who have had chronic difficulties either with behavior or academic deficiency in traditional schools and are better served by a more personalized institution and/or program. (Hefner-Packer 1991)
It is often the very students with the greatest needs that are those exhibiting chronic truancy. Speaking of elementary aged students, "At every school, however, are students who are regularly absent. Says Murray: "One concern we have with attendance is that it seems that those who are absent frequently are those who cannot afford to miss school. When that happens, we have to do a great deal of remediation." (National Association of Elementary School Principals 2002)
One of the traditional ways in which a student is referred or recommended for attendance of an alternative school is associated with poor attendance resulting in poor academic achievement which can accumulate into a decreases level of self-esteem and general behavioral deficiencies that are disruptive to a traditional school classroom. So, often times those students mentioned above have garnered their referral to alternative education from a domino effect that could have had its roots in early poor attendance.
Some of the possible negative outcomes of poor school attendance are recorded in an ERIC digest (1997) article "...examines some of the ways that truancy affects both individuals and society. It identifies factors that may place students at greater risk of becoming truant and lists some consequences of nonattendance, including delayed promotion and graduation, lowered self-esteem, and lessened employment potential." (ERIC 1997) In another source criminality was linked directly to school truancy. "The Los Angeles County Office of Education identifies truancy as the most powerful predictor of delinquency. Police departments across the nation report that many students not in school during regular hours are committing crimes, including vandalism, shoplifting, and graffiti. When Van Nuys, California, officials conducted a three-week sweep…