Cleveland Municipal School District
misleads public with attendance rate inflation

by Stephanie Nilles

(Plain Press, January 2005) According to the Cleveland Municipal School District's Fall 2004 Issue of Educating Cleveland’s Children (ECC), progress within the district has been made and "great gains achieved" over the past five years.  Both Board Chair Margaret Hopkins and CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett suggest that this progress is evidenced by recent rising test scores, steady graduation rates, and skyrocketing attendance rates.  The District reports that "attendance has increased to over 96 percent."  

The District's claims, however, are misleading.  Average Daily Membership (ADM) Reports collected over the past two years document attendance rates very different from those the District is issuing to the public. These reports divide student populations per school into "unexcused," "excused," and "tardy" figures and compare these figures to total enrollment within each building.  The reports also calculate the percentage of students "absent" per schools building. The figures defining "percent absent," however, only account for "unexcused" absences.

For example, Almira Elementary purports 0% absent on May 2, 2003.  While 0 students were unexcused that day, 132 of 655, or 20.2% of the students, were absent but excused.   

At John Marshall High School, only 4.8% were reported absent although 54.4% were not in attendance, and at Lincoln West High Schools, 2.9% were reported absent while 49.9% were not at school.

Throughout the entire Cleveland Municipal School District, elementary schools have reported an absentee rate of .1% although 16.3% of the students are absent.  Middle schools have reported an absentee rate of 1% although 28.0% of the students are absent.  

Perhaps most troubling, only 2.8% of high school students are reported as absent; in reality, 45.4% of these students are missing from school.  In total, 26.4% of all Cleveland Municipal School District students are often absent.  

Also noteworthy is the District's willingness to omit "tardies" from its public information.  While 16.3% of elementary students are absent per a typical school day, 20.2% students are tardy.  While 28% of middle school students are absent, 36.1% are tardy.  And if 45.4% absent from high school is not enough, 31.9% of additional students are tardy.  An all school summary report states that 27.0% of all students within the District are tardy.  These statistics suggest that, at any given time, particularly at the beginnings of school days, as many as 53.4% of Cleveland's public school students may or may not be absent from class, some unexcused, some excused, and some attending classes late.

Stephanie Nilles wrote this article special for the Plain Press as part of her coursework in City as a Classroom at Case Western Reserve University. The course, taught by Professor Rhonda Williams, focused on public education this semester.

Attendance realities of schools within the Plain Press area:
May 2003 Elementary schools:
Almira: 20.2% absent / 12.9% tardy
Buhrer: 21.6% absent / 24.2% tardy
Clark: 19.7% absent / 10.0% tardy
Denison: 12.8% absent / 18.1% tardy
Kentucky: 22.4% absent / 32.0% tardy
Louis Agassiz: 10% absent / 7.6% tardy
Louisa M. Alcott: 12% absent / 14.4% tardy
Marion C. Seltzer: 17.6% absent / 18.4% tardy
Paul Dunbar: 16.2% absent / 9% tardy
Scranton: 11.5% absent / 37.6% tardy
Tremont: 17.8% absent / 34.7% tardy
Walton: 15.3% absent / 9% tardy
Watterson Lake: 16.6% absent / 12.8% tardy
Orchard: 15.9% absent / 18.3% tardy

Middle schools:
Halle Middle: 50% absent / 25.5% tardy
Joseph Gallagher: 32.1% absent / 59.9% tardy
Thomas Jefferson: 25.3% absent / 3.4% tardy
Wilbur Wright: 32.9% absent / 46.1% tardy
H. Barbara Booker: 17% absent / 12.7% tardy

High schools:
Halle High: 51.7% absent / 71.7% tardy
James F. Rhodes: 46.1% absent / 24.1% tardy
Max Hayes: 38.3% absent / 1% tardy
John Marshall: 54.4% absent / 62.4% tardy
Lincoln West: 49.9% absent / 52.9% tardy

Source: Cleveland Municipal School District’s Average Daily Membership reports for May of 2003


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