WV Superintendent Steven Paine Thursday delivered a report on chronic absenteeism in West Virginia public schools during a meet of the state Board of Education.

"We discovered that school attendance emerged as a real problem," Paine said, referring to the new Balanced Scorecard report released on Sept. 13.

While elementary and middle schools garnered a yellow rating for partially meeting attendance standards for 2017-2018, high schools were rated red for not meeting standards.

Elementary schools showed an 84.61 percent attendance rate, middle schools had a 80.7 percent attendance rate, but high schools had a 75.86 percent attendance rate.

"Calhoun County is very concerned about student absenteeism. If students are not in school we can't teach them," said Calhoun Superintendent Kelli Whytsell.

"We have early release days for teacher professional development, we encourage parents to make all appointments that they can on those early outs. We also have Minnie Hamilton School-based clinics in every school during the week to see students. If a student needs to be seen and the clinic is not in the student's home school that day they can make an appointment where the clinic is that day."

Calhoun schools rewards students for attendance every nine weeks.

On the recently released Calhoun balanced scorecards, both elementary schools were identified as "does not meet standard" and the Middle/High school was identified as "partially meets standard.

"We are focusing every day on attendance and helping parents understand the importance of their child attending school every day," said Whytsell.

Last school year, 54,000 West Virginia students missed more than 18 days of school. The problem is particularly noticeable in high schools. Last year, six high schools met attendance standards, and one school, Pickens Elementary/High School in Randolph County, exceeded standards with 100 percent attendance. Out of 116 high schools, 61 high schools did not meet standards, while 48 high schools partially met attendance standards.

"That is a problem. That is a serious problem," Paine told board members. "We provide far too many excuses for being absent from school. We have circumstances where a parent wants to bring a student to school a week late for summer vacation. Wait a minute, that's not acceptable. I know it puts a burden on districts to say no to those parents, but I think it's time we do it."

Paine told board members that data compiled by the department found a strong correlation between student absenteeism and low achievement. National research is available, but a department analysis of first-year accountability system data found a direct correlation, Paine said.

"I think it's incumbent on us to take away a lot of the reasons we excuse absences at this point," Paine said. "I think we are masking a problem that exists and we need to make sure the federal definition of what it means for a student to be absent is more closely related to our state definition of what it means for a student to be absent."

Paine also addressed the issue of teacher absenteeism, which is affecting the budgets of county school boards.

"We have teachers whose attendance rates are not much better than the students. To me, that is totally unacceptable," Paine said.

According to Paine, county school systems are dealing with teacher absenteeism with hiring substitute teachers, draining their budgets.

"Their substitute expenses have tripled in many cases," Paine said. "That's a real financial burden on our districts."

While the priority is student absenteeism, teachers are using the 15 days of personal leave they receive each year, Paine said. Previously, teachers could bank that time and apply them to their retirement or their retiree health insurance plans, of which the state Consolidated Public Retirement Board did away with that perk several years ago.

"The misunderstanding is that our newest teachers think that those are their 15 days to use, that they're entitled to those days and that they can be used," Paine said.

"It used to be that there was incentive to not use those days, that you could apply those to retirement or PEIA when you retired. That incentive was improperly or unwisely withdrawn by the retirement board."

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