Late to school: A study of the phenomenon of chronic student lateness in one middle school
V TABLE OF CONTENTS ABSTRACT iii LIST OF TABLES ix LIST OF FIGURES xi CHAPTERS I INTRODUCTION 1 Background 1 Research Questions 7 II REVIEW OF THE LITERATURE 8 Public School Policy 8 New York State Framework 9 Studies of Secondary Student Lateness 17 Policy to Practice 20 Practice to Regulation 22 Services 26 Programs and Staff Assistance 26 Incentives and Deterrents 30 Characteristics of Chronically Late Students 33 Biology 37 Perceptions 40 Summary 45 III METHODOLOGY 47 Introduction 47 Case Study 48 Grounded Theory Approach 50 Case Study Through the Lens of a Grounded Theory Approach 52 Setting: The School District Demographics 53
Liberty Middle School Policy #5100-R-2 Liberty Middle School Demographics Attendance Data Collection Field Observations Individual Semi-Structured Interviews Archival Data Participants Students Staff Data Analysis Coding Categories Themes Analysis of the SASI Data Researcher Role/Bias Limitations FINDINGS The Setting: Liberty Middle School The Attendance Office The Student Participants Student Narratives: Family Influences on Student Lateness Brittany Diana Lillian Rose Sarah Sophia Victoria Student Narratives: Self-Regulation's Impact on Student Lateness Amanda Ashley Bob Cassandra Gabriel Michael Pablo Researcher's Observations and Interviews Life in the Attendance Office 59 63 63 66 67 68 71 72 73 73 75 76 77 79 80 81 81 83 83 85 86 87 88 90 94 98 103 105 108 115 115 118 120 122 125 128 131 135 135
Behavioral Characteristics of Students Who Come to School on Time 138 Physical Attributes of Students Entering Late 139 Lateness Excuses Offered in the Attendance Office 141 Frequency of Visits to the Attendance Office: A Growing Problem 145 Researcher's Interviews with Key School Staff About Student Attendance 148 Interviews with Attendance Monitor 149 Interviews with Guidance Counselors 152 Interviews with Assistant Principals 159 Interviews with Social Worker 166 Interviews with Science Teacher 171 Interviews with Social Studies Teacher 173 Summary 175 ANALYSIS 176 Frequent Flyers: Family Influences Brittany Diana Lillian Rose Sarah Victoria Addressing Family Influences Self-Regulation's Impact on Student Lateness Amanda Ashley Bob Cassandra Gabriel Michael Pablo Researcher's Interviews with Key School Staff About Student Attendance Interview with Attendance Monitor Interviews with Guidance Counselors Interviews with Assistant Principals Interviews with Social Worker Interviews with Science Teacher Interviews with Social Studies Teacher Institutional Data Analysis Perception of the Lack of Staff and 176 177 177 178 178 179 179 180 180 180 180 181 181 181 182 182 183 183 184 186 188 188 189 190
Finger Pointing 190 Interpretation and Practices of the Policy 193 Messages from the School: Inconsistent Information and Practices 195 Concluding Thoughts 197 VI DISCUSSION AND IMPLICATIONS 199 Introduction 199 Discussion 199 Perceptions and Images of the Late Student 203 Interventions are Critical 203 Implications 205 REFERENCES 209 APPENDIXES 219 A SECTION 104.1 (I) OF COMMISSIONER'S REGULATION 219 B INFORMED PARTICIPANT CONSENT 221 C INFORMED PARENT CONSENT 223 D SAMPLE QUESTIONS FOR "FREQUENT FLYER" INTERVIEWS 225 E THE ATTENDANCE OFFICE 228 F NOTIFICATION OF ATTENDANCE POLICY 229 G LETTER FOR STUDENTS LATE 5 OR MORE TIMES TO SCHOOL 230
IX LIST OF TABLES 1. 2008 District Education Levels 54 2. District Enrollment Totals 54 3. District Demographic Factors 55 4. District Attendance Rates 56 5. District Free or Reduced Price Lunch Rates 57 6. District Dropout Rates 58 7. Annual Liberty Middle School Enrollment Totals 63 8. 2005-2006 Liberty Middle School Enrollment Totals by Grade 64 9. Liberty Middle School Demographic Information 64 10. Free or Reduced Lunch Rates at Liberty Middle School 65 11. Timeline for Data Collection 68 12. Chronically Late Students, "Frequent Flyers" 74 13. Students' 2005-2006 Attendance History 86 14. Brittany's Attendance History 88 15. Diana's Attendance History 91 16. Lillian's Attendance History 94 17. Rose's Attendance History 99 18. Sarah's Attendance History 103
X 19. Sophia's Attendance History 20. Victoria's Attendance History 21. Amanda's Attendance History 22. Ashley's Attendance History 23. Bob's Attendance History 24. Cassandra's Attendance History 25. Gabriel's Attendance History 26. Michael's Attendance History 27. Pablo's Attendance History 28. Recorded Student Excuses at the Attendance Office 29. Students Arriving Late to School 30. Students Arriving Late to School by by Gender During - 2005-2006 2005-2006 Grade During 2005-2006 105 108 116 118 120 122 125 128 131 143 145 146
XI LIST OF FIGURES 1. Annual Attendance Rates by Percentage at Liberty Middle School 66 2. Liberty Middle School Enrollment Profile by Grade Level 67
1 CHAPTER I INTRODUCTION George Washington once wrote to his school-age nephew, "Every hour misspent is lost forever, and future years cannot compensate for lost days at this period of your life" (U.S. Department of Education, Remarks from Secretary Paige, 2004). Background Walking through the halls every morning, the researcher observed students showing signs of lethargy and their disengagement from school is apparent in actions and words. Students stand at the attendance office door late for school each morning as they have done before. The familiar faces of students lined up each morning look at me with no apparent emotion or concern when the researcher passes by. They appear to not know they should be concerned about being late to school. The line increases as the school year progresses and the practice of standing on line late for school seems to repeat itself each year. Typically, students spend three years in a middle school and will be brought into a school culture. However, the practice of being late to school is an unwritten behavior code that may be passed on with each new student entering middle school. The researcher wondered how that occurred.
2 In the researcher's current role as a middle school guidance counselor in a suburb of a major northeastern city for the past seven years, she has observed students demonstrating relaxed attendance habits. They arrive late to school at all hours of the day and appear to have varying attitudes and stories for the attendance monitor regarding their repeated lateness. The researcher views lateness as a form of absence or truancy because they were missing from the class period regardless of being excused or not. Lateness is defined as "coming, occurring, or remaining after the correct, usual, or expected time; delayed" (The Free Dictionary, 2003). Lateness can therefore be broadly defined as missing time over the course of a school day. For example, students might be late to school, arriving anywhere from 7:45 am-l:36 pm. This relates to periods one through eight of a nine period school day ending at 2:20 p.m. The bell to signal the beginning of the first period rings at 7:45 am. Another way of counting attendance in school is if a student spends one period in class during the day, he or she is considered being present in school. Absence can be defined as being out of school for the entire nine periods of the school day. Yet, lateness is loosely defined as being out of school from periods one through eight out of the nine-period day. This is problematic and confusing. The definition of lateness used in this research is that used by the Liberty school district. This district bases its policy on that of the New York State Department of Education (N YSED) which defines attendance as a mandated amount of time spent in school for children ages 6 through 21 (Kadamus, 2000).
3 This is the definition that staff members must adhere to. The start of the school day 7:45 am; arrival afterwards through 8l period is considered late. When late, the researcher observed some students come to school appearing exhausted and half asleep, complaining about how early school begins, and protesting about not wanting to be there. The timely arrival of students to begin their academic work is considered by teachers to be central to educating children. A second challenge is the appearance of large numbers outside the attendance office in the morning, signifying the failure of these students to arrive on time for school and the apparent lack of effective sanctions to alter behavior. Lateness in the middle school can evolve into high school lateness where the early slow disengagement evolves into later truant behaviors, dropping out of school and even in the workplace when students become undesirable adult working employees (Bridgeland, Dilulio, & Morison, 2006; Koslowsky, 2000; Sagie, Birati, & Tziner, 2002). Good habits and societal expectations are taught and reinforced in school. Wagstaff, Combs, and Jarvis (2000) cite Ingersoll and Leboeuf who point out that "good school attendance is indicative of characteristics that are essential for successful employment and citizenship" (p. 21). How can schools teach these skills when students are not present? Students must be minimally physically in the school building to learn. The observed relaxed nature of student behavior regarding lateness may have an affect on student learning and the amount of time teachers have to spend catching late students up. There appears to be a disregard for start time on the part
4 of students, parents and some staff. This dilemma caused the researcher to wonder whether the school could identify lateness issues and recommend changes in policy and practice. The researcher found attendance, specifically lateness to be a compelling problem and she wanted to find out more. The students are not the only party to hold accountable. The community supports the school to educate their children and prepare them for a contributing role in society. The school therefore has an obligation to set the tone for model behavior and create a climate where students will respect punctuality and accountability. In the school in which the researcher works, students who consistently arrive late have learned to negotiate the mechanics of lateness. When students arrive late to school, they are routinely processed and may be admonished at a later time. It appeared to the researcher lateness to school was rarely discussed and acknowledged only when necessary as a contributing factor to failure or poor behavior. If lateness could be one of the root causes of poor student performance and behavior problems faced in school, why is it not a high priority concern? One might believe it is swept under the carpet to remain the "pink elephant in the room." The issue is present with little acknowledgement. How can this problematic issue become a more immediate concern? The researcher believed the school plays a large role in reinforcing chronic lateness, and if thoroughly examined, she wondered if she could learn more about the phenomenon of lateness at Liberty Middle School. She believed there were
5 major consequences for lateness for students, staff and community members alike. Through selected policies and actions, is the school is enabling students to be late? It is the school structure that holds students accountable for being on time? Why are students late? How often? Are staff members aware there are more than a few late students each day? In order to more fully understand school lateness, she examined external causes and internal school structures. Additionally, the researcher looked at student and school staff perceptions, behaviors and outcomes regarding student lateness. Studies indicate that on a given day about 2.7 million students do not show up for school in America. Many communities have a hard time identifying and cataloging the problem, let alone solving it (U.S. Department of Education, 2004). Additionally, children walk into school after the bell has rung missing hundreds of hours of learning time each year and may contribute to the beginning of a slow process of disengagement from school as discussed in Bridgeland, et al. "Nationally, research puts the graduation rate between 68 and 71 percent, which means that almost one-third of all public high school students in America fail to graduate" (Swanson, as cited in Bridgeland et al., p. 1). If the student drops out, attendance is not part of the reported number because they are then counted as a casualty. "Some experts expect the dropout problem to increase substantially through 2020 unless significant improvements are made" (Kaufman, as cited in Bridgeland et al., p. 1). Although student attendance to school rates have increased
6 throughout the twentieth century, over the course of a student's educational career, it is possible children can lose valuable learning time in the classroom. If Section 3210-Title IV, Article 65, Part I S 3210. Amount and character of required attendance mandates that children must attend school "full time that school is in session during the day and throughout the term" (New York State Department of Education, 2009), then why is there not more being done to promote school attendance? It leads her to believe there is a lack of awareness and action in an area that may have a great impact on the schooling process and outcomes. If inquiry and discussion take root, the awareness can actually help students learn. Attendance to school is recognized as crucial for success in countries all over the world including the United States, England and Scotland (International Association for Truancy and Dropout Prevention, 2007; Malcolm & Thorpe, 2005; Truancycall.com, 2006; U. S. Department of Education, 2005). It is, therefore, alarming to find the few research studies regarding student lateness, absence and attendance to school. Lateness is often discussed as an important topic in magazines and newspapers, but rarely in research. The literature regarding lateness as it relates to policy, practice and regulation in schools is an understudied area in need of research in order to help educators understand the impact of missing valuable learning time. This bounded case study in one middle school draws attention to the much needed discussion of addressing the school's role and perceptions of staff and students to school lateness as seen through the eyes of the chronically late students.
7 Research Questions The following questions guided this study: 1. What are student and administrative perceptions of the causes for student lateness in a suburban middle school setting? 2. How does the application of the district's attendance policy impact student lateness? The following exploration of the research on student lateness reveals significant connections between chronic student lateness and student learning. It is essential that research in this area delve deeply into this phenomenon. That is the goal of this study in Liberty Middle School.
8 CHAPTER n LITERATURE REVIEW The literature review examines the relevant research regarding the structural context and characteristics of chronic student lateness. Literature can be used as an analytic tool if we are careful to think about it in theoretical terms. Used in this way, the literature can provide a rich source of events to stimulate thinking about properties and for asking conceptual questions. It can furnish initial ideas to be used for theoretical sampling (Strauss & Corbin, 1998, p. 47). An historical perspective is considered for greater understanding of the background that informs the examination of student lateness today. Through the relevant literature, the researcher addressed the following points: 1. The New York State framework that guides school district attendance policies. 2. Studies of secondary student lateness. 3. Characteristics of chronically late students. Public School Policy In the United States of America, each of the fifty states has a responsibility to assist local school districts to initiate practices that lead to desired student
9 success under the umbrella of No Child Left Behind act of 2002 (NCLB). This includes compulsory attendance. The definition of lateness is not focused on one specific measurement of absence or truancy from school. Rather, it is a combination of federal, state and local relationships that define what lateness looks like. Each district in the country defines student attendance in a way that best serves their goals through policy, practice and regulation. As Wiggins and McTighe (2005) point out, our job is to identify the needs of students and that should inform our standards and shape our priorities and goals. Policies can be sound, but if poorly implemented lead to unsuccessful outcomes and performance. By focusing on the more general issue of school attendance and defining lateness broadly, educators can acquire a sense of the barriers to a chronic student's lateness experiences. New York State Framework The New York State Education Department [NYSED] has a critical role in ensuring student success and closing the widening gap in student performance. Although the education department does not have the task of micromanaging each facet of school life, they are responsible for creating a regulatory framework to set the policies and regulations that strengthen the school district's ability to educate their students as well as maintain positive school cultures. New York was the eighth state to sign their compulsory school attendance legislation into law in 1874. All parents and those who have the care of children shall instruct them, or cause them to be instructed, in spelling, reading, writing, English grammar,
10 geography and arithmetic. And every parent, guardian or other person having control and charge of any child between the ages of eight and fourteen years shall cause such child to attend some public or private day school at least fourteen weeks in each year (Laws of the state of New York, 1874, p. 532). (as cited in Novello, 1998) In 1904, the New York State Board of Regents approved the creation of an attendance division. The duties were to oversee the enforcement of compulsory attendance for 10,000 schools in New York State. Later in 1939, the New York State Education Law was amended to require attendance teachers or supervisors with backgrounds in law or social work to assume the responsibilities for monitoring attendance (C. Friedman, personal communication, August 16, 2006). This was reaffirmed in 1955 and still applied in 2007 as per Law, Section 3213 - Chapter 16, Title IV, Article 65, Part I, which maintains that "On and after July first, nineteen hundred fifty-five no full-time supervisor of attendance shall be appointed unless he or she holds a license as attendance teacher" (New York State Department of Education, 2009). Placing importance on the role of the attendance officer sent a message to districts that attending school regularly was vital. Section 3201 - Title IV, Article 65, Part I of the New York State Constitution provides that all children of the State are entitled to attend the public school (New York State Department of Education, (2006a). Federal compulsory attendance laws require all children attend school until a defined age. New York State modifies compulsory age based on state values and beliefs within the scope of the different federal laws and regulations which then trickles down to the district level.
11 According to a November/December 2000 Message from the Deputy Commissioner James A. Kadamus (2000) of the Elementary, Middle, Secondary and Continuing Education Commission (EMSC), there are four primary purposes for the present system of student attendance in New York State: 1. To verify that individual students are complying with various compulsory education laws. 2. To identify individual and group absence patterns in order to provide programs and services that will assist each student to meet higher academic standards and be more successful. 3. To determine the average daily attendance for State Aid reimbursement. 4. To know the whereabouts of every student every period for safety purposes. Section 3205 of Title IV, Article 65, Part 1, enforces the attendance of children ages six to sixteen years of age in full time instruction (New York State Department of Education, 2006a). The birthday of the child determines whether or not a child will start the coming school year. If they are born before December first, they will attend that school year. After December first, they attend school the following September. There are exceptions to the rule. Section 3210 of Title IV, Article 65, Part 1, has two parts (New York State Department of Education, 2009). The first part explains that students must attend school in the area they reside in and must attend school for the full time that school is in session during the day and throughout the year. The only way to be excused from school is approval by a listed parent or guardian. The section also states that there can be "no civil or criminal liability" towards the school district for following
12 this policy. The second part of the policy outlines the attendance requirements in a school that is not public. If a student attendance a private, charter or home school, they must be in attendance for the same amount of time. The state must approve of this schooling to ensure it is equivalent in instructional quality and length of time. Carl Friedman knows a great deal about attendance in New York State. He is considered the resident expert at the Education Department Elementary, Middle and Secondary Continuing Education office [EMSC]. Carl has been working for the New York State Education Department since 1985 and is the individual referred to for attendance issues. His experience in interpreting attendance laws and the length of his service makes him an informal historian regarding student attendance in New York State. He remembered the old system of hand written reports on lateness and absence. He shared that the new attendance record formatting is much better and based on several educational laws (EL3024, 3025, 3211, 3212-a, 3213- c&d) with the most prominent being Commissioner's Regulations (CR104.1, 10.2) (C. Friedman, personal communication, August 16, 2006). There are three types of attendance laws that enforce compulsory education in New York State. They are Educational Laws, Commissioner's Regulations and Commissioner's Decisions. The details for carrying out educational laws are known as Commissioner's Regulations. A Commissioner's Decision is in effect when a disagreement at the district level is brought to the attention of the State Education Department. Carl Friedman's job is to write more in depth information about the regulations that explain questions districts may have to clarify what is missing in
13 the law (personal communication, August 16, 2006). School district and building administrative remedies must be exhausted before an appeal to the Commissioner of Education may be brought (New York State Department of Education, 1992), or the issue can go to court by suing the district. If the Commissioner's decision is not agreeable to the stakeholders, the case is reviewed by the State Supreme Court. Some of those issues have become landmark decisions. The source of all policy on lateness for the state of New York is The Commissioner's Regulation CR104.1. This regulation gives authority to the public school districts to create and regulate the attendance of students to their schools. "The purpose of the policy shall be to ensure the maintenance of an adequate record verifying the attendance of all children at instruction in accordance with Education Law sections 3205 and 3210 [of Title IV, Article 65, Part 1] and establish a mechanism by which the patterns of pupil absence can be examined to develop effective intervention strategies to improve school attendance" (see New York State Department, 2006a, paragraph i.). Supporting these Educational Law Sections is Section 104. l(i) of the Commissioner's Regulation. The district's policy must contain specific elements that control the monitoring of student attendance which includes lateness. The district policy must include in its content several fundamentals. Descriptions of the strategies that will be used to determine student absenteeism, lateness and early departures must be present. They must describe the method of coding attendance as well as the incentives and deterrents that will be implemented. They must reveal
14 their method of parent notification of such attendance issues as well as identification of who will be responsible for carrying out the policy (see Appendix A). Policy can vary between elementary, middle and high schools at the discretion of the local education agency (LEA as New York State defines a district) as long as it is deemed reasonable and covers all students within that building. A policy can be just for an elementary school as long it treats all elementary schools within the district the same. Policy coupled with local district level attendance coding assists in closing the gaps in student performance. They are designed to increase the rates of school completion and academic success, and provide accountability to State Education for AYP and graduation rates. The policy is reviewed by the district based on annual examination of the attendance records of the district. The state maintains if districts are being held accountable for these benchmarks, it stems from precise attendance data. According to Stevens (2006), Interim Deputy Commissioner, New York State Department of Education, in a slide presentation he gave to the High School Initiative to Central New York Consortium in 2006, he said, the relationship between attendance and graduation rate is dramatic (slide 36)... Schools with the lowest attendance rates also have the lowest graduation rates. Graduation rates tend to drop as schools fall below 95% attendance. The graduation rate decline gets very large the more attendance falls below 92% (slide 38). Coding of attendance is a local decision. Any designation other than "present" must have a code assigned including lateness and early departures. The
15 same codes for absences must be used for lateness as well, even though there is no formal definition that defines lateness. [In New York State] it is now up to each of our districts, BOCES and nonpublic school to define these things for themselves. Instead of one definition we now have thousands policies that run without definition. It is like asking you to fly a plane while you are still building it. It is impossible. (C. Friedman, personal communication, January 3, 2007) In general, former coding terms "Legal" and "Dlegal" have been replaced with "Excused" and "Unexcused". Additionally, each district must ensure that the attendance records of each building are reviewed every year by the building leadership and the board of education to observe the decline or increase of attendance. The district will then revise the policy to improve student attendance rates if needed. Section 104.1(1) of the Commissioner's Regulations also says the district is responsible for advertising the policy to the community and making sure all interested stakeholders are aware by "... (i) providing a plain language summary of the policy...." (see Appendix A). How this Commissioner's regulation is to be carried out and by whom is decided by the individual school district. Although there is flexibility and lack of specific directions, this process of policy accountability and coding assists the district in meeting the objectives of the attendance laws. The local education agency determines the specific time or class period student attendance is to be reported to the New York State Department of Education. Cumulative attendance information is reported to the district office and the State Department. Specifically, data on percentage of students present are sent to the State Education department, never lateness. According to the Student Data
16 Services department at Liberty School District, the percentage of students present in each school building monthly is reported. The district files an SA-129 form to the State Education Department for state aid. The process of sending the data is intended to accomplish the following: 1. It verifies compliance with compulsory education laws. 2. It enables the district to know the whereabouts of every student for safety and accountability. 3. It allows districts to gather data to help recognize student attendance patterns in order to meet the requirement of being able to 'identify individuals and group absence patterns in order to provide programs and services that will assist each student to meet higher academic standards' (Kadamus, 2000). 4. It assists the district in supplying appropriate resources and assistance to families in order to help increase student attendance rates. There is no existing document that mandates lateness be reported to the New York State Education Department (C. Friedman, personal communication, August 16, 2006). The documentation of lateness is for district purposes of data collection and red-flagging at-risk students for support services. Not all districts in the state receive funding based on attendance numbers and each district separately determines what is considered legally or illegally late, truant and absent. Carl Friedman did not have an answer on how to solve the problem of student lateness nor what he could do with the information if lateness were to be reported. He says