How the Massachusetts Academy of Math and Science in Worcester had a near perfect attendance rate during COVID | #coronavirus | #kids. | #children | #schools

At the Massachusetts Academy of Math and Science, the biggest drivers of great attendance rates are student engagement as well as tracking and follow-up with students, according to Michael Barney, the director of the Worcester-based school.

That helped the academy achieve the highest attendance rate of K-12 public schools in Massachusetts during the 2020-2021 school year, according to state data, coming in just shy of 100% even as the COVID-19 pandemic disrupted education.

“The student engagement is very high, so it’s a very collaborative environment here, very project-based, so students don’t ever want to miss a day,” said Barney. “They’re learning so much from their interactions with each other, as well as from the faculty, that it’s a really engaging environment.”

The academy is a two-year public high school that serves about 100 junior and senior year students with a focus on math and science. While juniors learn in classrooms at the academy, seniors take classes at Worcester Polytechnic Institute to prepare for college before high school graduation.

Students attend from about 35 school districts, from Lexington and Westminster to Franklin and Holliston.

So far for the 2020-2021 school year, the academy has an overall attendance rate of 99.6%, according to data from the state Department of Elementary and Secondary Education. The average number of absences is 0.5, the rate of students absent 10 or more days is 2%, as is the percent of students marked chronically absent.

The academy usually has a high attendance rate, Barney said. Data indicates roughly the same numbers, with some small improvements, during the pandemic. For the 2019-2020 year, overall attendance was 99.4%, the average number of absences was 0.8, just 1% of students were absent 10 or more days and none were chronically absent.

DESE defines attendance rate as the average percentage of days in attendance at school for students enrolled in grades pre-K to grade 12 when enrolled for at least 20 days for the school year.

A typical Massachusetts student misses 9 days of school, or 5%, each year, according to DESE.

Students are considered chronically absent if they miss 10% or more of their total days enrolled in a school. With 180 school days in a typical school year, a student would be counted as chronically absent after missing 18 days, regardless of whether the absences are considered excused, unexcused or for disciplinary reasons.

For the current school year, the state’s overall attendance rate is 94%, data indicates. The average number of absences was 6. The rate of students absent 10 or more days was 17.2%, while the rate of students chronically absent was 17%.

In the fall, the academy started hybrid for a few weeks and then switched a remote model, Barney said. When they were able to enroll in the state’s pooled COVID-19 testing program in March, students went back to hybrid learning. Eventually, full-time in-person education resumed in line with the state’s requirements.

Because of the pandemic, the academy developed a sign-in process that also worked as a COVID symptom tracker.

“Students signed in every morning between 7 and 7:45,” Barney said. “And then teachers, they were zooming from every block, when we were remote, they were engaged every block of the day so if a student was not in class for whatever reason, we would text them to make sure that they were re-engaged immediately or we would call their parents to see if there was something amiss. 99% of the time, they’d be right back on the call within a minute.”

That was the case for junior students. Seniors were able to be in-person on campus the whole school year, Barney said, and could take part in WPI’s testing protocol twice a week.

The academy did not struggle with some of the challenges other districts faced during the pandemic. Remote learning put a spotlight on the number of Massachusetts children who did not have access to laptops or an internet connection, an issue that existed before the coronavirus spread. In Worcester, where the academy is located, 18% of families had no internet access, a report released last summer found.

Barney said students enrolled had the means to get online for remote instruction. There were occasional connectivity issues, Barney said, but those problems never caused a student to miss a whole day.

“We know that we’re fortunate,” he said. “We know that there are some districts that all students don’t have devices, all students aren’t connected, all students don’t have hot spots.”

For other districts, new policies added in an attempt to help with the transition to online learning did not work out. At Hampshire Regional High School, a change in the tardy policy led to a significant spike in the number of students marked chronically absent.

For the academy, there were even some benefits of remote learning, particularly because the courses are so collaborative.

“It was pedagogically more effective to hold our classes via Teams and Zoom than it was to do in-person learning distanced with masks,” Barney said. “It’s tough when you’re trying to collaborate on a project and you can’t hear somebody, when you try to work on a group project with four people and sitting 6 feet apart with a mask, you can’t hear people. It’s difficult to communicate.”

For the next school year, the state is requiring districts to use in-person learning as the primary school model and is lifting COVID-19 health and safety restrictions.

To find attendance rates for your district, see this searchable database. Readers can also find a list of the 50 districts with the highest rates here.

Related Content:

  • These 50 districts had the lowest student attendance rates during the COVID-19 pandemic
  • Massachusetts school attendance: Search the database to see districts with high and low absentee rates

Source link