Wake County Schools

Taking student attendance just one more coronavirus complication for teachers

Posted January 26, 2021 6:48 p.m. EST
Updated January 27, 2021 8:59 a.m. EST

Coronavirus and the classroom

— Taking student attendance during the COVID-19 pandemic is more complicated than usual and, as Wake County schools officials warn, may not be as accurate.

The Wake County Public School System’s updated attendance policy provides “grace and flexibility” to students who may share computers at home or struggle with Internet connectivity, but it’s a big burden on teachers, Paul Koh, assistant superintendent for student support services, told the school board Tuesday during a committee meeting.

“I guess it’s just disappointing,” board member Karen Carter said. “That means we really don’t have any accurate data to go by, as a board, and I think that leads to less accountability and makes it more difficult to see the impact this side is having.”

During a typical school day, during a typical year, teachers mark only who is absent from their classroom.

But when students attend virtually, teachers may not be able to take accurate attendance on the day of class.

Because of this year’s virtual school setting, Wake County Public School System teachers now have three different ways of determining whether a student was present.

According to a policy discussed at a county school board committee meeting Tuesday, educators can count a student present if they complete their daily assignment, if they attend in-person or live virtually or if they check-in with their teacher.

So if a student doesn’t attend class virtually but turns in their assignment later, the teacher must go back and change the student’s attendance from “absent” to “present.” At the middle school level and above, teachers take attendance for all class periods.

The district is working with the North Carolina Department of Public Instruction to make attendance-taking easier, said Marlo Gaddis, district chief technology officer.

“Teachers now have to retroactively go back and adjust whom they marked absent and keep up with what day they assigned what assignment and what day they need to change from absent remote to present remote,” said Drew Cook, assistant superintendent for academics. “It is a time-consuming endeavor on top of many others for our teachers every single day. That process itself opens itself up to additional inaccuracies through nobody’s fault.”

Class of 2021 can graduate with fewer credits

Also on Tuesday, Brian Pittman, the district’s director of high school programs, told board members that the district remains flexible this year about students graduating with fewer than the 26 credits the district typically requires. Last year, students needed only the state-required 22 credits because of a state mandate prompted by the COVID-19 pandemic.

The district isn’t changing its graduation requirements. Pittman said students have previously been able to graduate with fewer than 26 credits if they attend certain schools or if a scheduling change has caused them to come up short of 26. Pittman said a student can meet with a counselor, who would then recommend they apply to the district for an exception, and their principal will ultimately determine if they can graduate with fewer than 26 credits.

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