For students to fulfill their academic potential, they need to be in class, engaged in their school community and stay out of trouble.
And if the Shawnee Mission School District wants to ensure that every student reaches his or her full potential, it needs to have a clear sense of where it stands with student attendance, extracurricular participation and discipline.
That was the message delivered by Dr. Ed Streich, the district’s chief of student services, in a presentation on student success benchmarking as the district prepares to enter a detailed strategic planning process in the coming months.
Streich presented the results of a program evaluation prepared by himself along with Director of Student and Family Services John McKinney, Director of Athletics and Activities Richard Kramer and Coordinator of Assessment and Research Dan Gruman at Monday’s board of education meeting.
In it, Streich laid out the best-available data the district has on attendance, discipline and athletic participation.
Streich noted that high attendance numbers are the foundation on which much of the district’s other work must be built. Students who are in school less than 90 percent of the time have been shown to be at risk for a number of negative outcomes.
“If students aren’t in school, they can’t learn,” he said. “So it’s paramount that we have students engaged in their learning process and attending school.”
Data from the fall 2018 semester show that Shawnee Mission’s attendance rates are below the state averages for every measured sub-group. However, Streich noted, Shawnee Mission schools have not been recording absence data in a uniform manner, and many partial absences are being recorded in a way that suggests students are out of school more than they really are.
“We are standardizing our protocol for attendance. In the past, we would count a student absent for one hour, and it might be reflected as a half a day of absence,” Streich said. “That has been standardized. We should see, we are believing, a significant increase in our attendance data for the 2018-19 year when we come back to present this information.”
Board member Patty Mach noted that she had heard from a number of teachers who had stressed the need for improved student attendance.
“I’ve heard great concern among teachers about student attendance,” Mach said. “If they’re not in the classroom, we can’t teach them. And then of course they have to do the follow up to get the work done, so the cycle is endless.”
Board member Laura Guy noted that attendance levels for black students were significantly below levels for other sub-groups, and asked if the district would be able to develop interventions to improve attendance rates.
Discipline data from across the district shows that the number of long-term discipline hearings in Shawnee Mission has been on the rise in recent years, growing from 40 in the 2014-15 school year to 62 in the 2016-17 school year to 84 last year.
Board member Heather Ousley expressed concern with that trend, and said the district needed to do more investigation into what was creating the significant discipline issues. She noted that national data suggested Shawnee Mission schools — like schools nationally — were disproportionately disciplining students of color.
Participation and engagement
Research shows that the involvement in extracurricular activities is a strong predictor of academic success, and that students who are involved in three or more activities throughout the school year tend to have the highest GPAs.
Data presented by Streich showed fairly strong participation in activities across grade levels.
Next steps, getting clean data
Based on the initial data collected, the report authors recommended the following future steps:
- Research a method to combat chronic absenteeism
- Support schools in recording attendance data accurately
- Investigate systems to collect student indicators most predictive of student academic success at the classroom, building and district levels
- Evaluate programs that support students in self-regulation as a means to reduce disciplinary activity
- Develop a diversity and inclusion plan to enhance educators in meeting the needs of all students
- Create a reflective practice to remove barriers for all students to reach their fullest potential. Foster relationship opportunities for students in both athletic and co-curricular activities
Superintendent Mike Fulton said that the district would be focusing this year on cleaning up its data collection processes so it could begin to make year-to-year comparisons.
“This is the type of work that we need to engage in,” Fulton said. “This year is really about looking carefully at our data. Asking what does research say is important too, but also making sure our data is clean…We’re working really hard to get good, benchmark data in place this year so that in the years ahead we can ask the question are we getting better.”