As Reading Instruction Shifts, Absenteeism And Tardies Can Lead To Poor Outcomes
As Reading Instruction Shifts, Absenteeism and Tardies Can Lead to Poor Outcomes
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Administrators at Whiteville Primary, a school that caters to students from kindergarten to second grade in Whiteville City Schools, meticulously plan out their daily schedule. Even the teachers schedule their literacy blocks down to the exact second.
During phonics instruction, teachers often build upon the knowledge that their students acquired earlier in the day while working on phonemic awareness. Additionally, comprehension exercises and read-alouds incorporate vocabulary words that the students worked with during their classes.
Ever since the shift towards instruction grounded in the science of reading, teaching has become more explicit and follows a specific scope and sequence. Each lesson is designed to build upon the previous one.
Missing just one day of school can significantly set back a student.
This raises concerns about the state of student attendance, especially on-time attendance, particularly in a state in the initial stages of implementing the Excellent Public Schools Act of 2021.
"We now have a different perspective on the urgency of education," remarked Pam Sutton, the instructional coach at Whiteville Primary. "We have noticed issues with attendance. I’m not certain whether it’s due to the pandemic or other factors, but it seems that parents no longer prioritize attendance."
However, attendance is crucial, especially for children who are in the process of learning how to read.
This year, the State Board of Education received data indicating that chronic absenteeism, defined as missing 10 or more days of school per year, has doubled to nearly 20% among elementary students in the 2020-21 academic year compared to before the pandemic. On average, elementary students are absent for 11 days per school year.
Multiple studies have demonstrated a negative correlation between school absences and academic achievement. According to a 2018 report by Lexia, only 17% of students who were chronically absent in kindergarten and first grade achieved grade-level reading proficiency by third grade.
"We are doing everything we can, and then there’s a student who’s absent, and as a result, they miss out on the instructional continuity, interventions, and extra help," Sutton explained. "It all adds up."
Moreover, it’s not only the number of days missed that impacts students’ progress. Even arriving at school a few minutes late can significantly hinder their ability to stay on track and reach grade-level proficiency, Sutton noted.
At Whiteville Primary, they utilize a program that calculates the cumulative instructional time missed when students arrive late or leave early. This report demonstrates the number of effectively missed days due to tardiness.
"Some parents are taken aback when they see the report because they didn’t realize it was such a significant issue," said Katie McLam. "But every minute counts."
In just 70 days into the school year, some students at Whiteville Primary have accumulated over 30 instances of tardiness. These students often arrive approximately 10 minutes late, casually walk to their classrooms, and sometimes take a few minutes to catch up with the rest of the class. In some cases, they go get breakfast if they haven’t eaten anything yet.
"So what was originally a 10-minute delay turns into 30 minutes," Sutton lamented. "And by that time, they haven’t even started their instruction while the rest of the class has moved on."
Sutton believes that being consistently late has a compounding effect on a student’s ability to catch up, whether it be on the same day or over the course of a few days.
"When these students arrive late, they experience anxiety and confusion about what they should be doing," she explained. "They’re worried about their homework, their snacks, and it takes time to calm them down so they can focus on learning."
These minutes wasted on non-instructional activities are precious, especially considering that teachers already face time constraints when it comes to delivering instruction.
According to school leaders, disciplinary actions have similar impacts. The main goal is to educate students on appropriate behavior, but whether a student is excluded from class due to absences, tardiness, or disciplinary consequences, the effect on the brain’s ability to learn is the same.
At Perquimans Central, a school catering to pre-K through second grade, administrators discovered that reading difficulties were contributing to disciplinary problems. Principal Tracy Gregory explained that in the past, teachers did their best to address these issues, but some of their methods proved to be ineffective in teaching students how to read. This led to feelings of anxiety and low self-esteem, which in turn resulted in behavioral outbursts.
To address this, they completely redesigned their reading instruction and fully adopted the science-of-reading approach. Simultaneously, they made every effort to minimize the need for disciplinary measures that would take students out of class.
Gregory emphasized that children misbehave because they fear appearing unintelligent, even as early as first and second grade. Rather than become the subject of ridicule, they may choose to act out or be the class clown. However, by identifying their specific needs and providing them with the appropriate instruction in a safe environment, a significant reduction in such behaviors can be observed.
The early results are already promising, with a notable decrease in incident reports compared to previous years, as reported by Gregory. She expressed her satisfaction, stating that this approach has made her job easier.
This article was originally published on EducationNC and has been republished here under a Creative Commons license.
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