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Originally published Sunday, February 26, 2012 at 4:01 PM

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Efforts to boost Seattle Public Schools students' attendance is paying off

School attendance is a key indicator of academic success. A partnership between the city of Seattle and the Seattle Public Schools rightly emphasizes getting kids to go to school.

Seattle Times Editorial

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THE biggest contributor to academic performance is school attendance. Teachers can't teach students who don't show up.

A nearly six-month-old partnership between the city of Seattle and Seattle Public Schools places a needed focus on improving attendance as another method of raising academic achievement. The "Be Here. Get There" initiative, funded by the voter-approved Families and Education Levy, correctly raises the need to get kids to school on a level of importance with engaging students once they are there.

The city, which controls the levy money relied upon by the district, set academic-performance targets that include improved attendance. The district earns a bonus by meeting the targets.

The payoff has been the district's student-absence rate moving to its lowest level in five years. There has been a 50 percent reduction in absences since the campaign was launched in September 2011.

Like most school districts, Seattle's attendance rates are high, around 80 percent districtwide and up to 90 percent in the highest-performing schools. But strong districtwide rates hide pockets of chronic absenteeism at some schools.

In 2009, 10 percent of elementary-school students in the Seattle School District missed 18 or more days of school, 20 percent of middle-school students missed 18 or more days, and 25 percent of high-school students missed 18 or more days. Most of the absentees were confined to a few schools. Missing 10 days of school is a strong indicator of students who will eventually drop out.

At Bailey Gatzert Elementary, student attendance is reviewed on Fridays. On Monday family-support workers are in contact with families of absentee students, sometimes making home visits. Illnesses, a lack of transportation or other reasons that keep students from school are addressed.

Other schools employ monthly giveaways of ice-cream and pizza coupons to entice students to prioritize school attendance. Students who miss fewer than five days are entered into a drawing for concert tickets and computer tablets. Grammy Award winner and singer Ne-Yo will visit students at Aki Kurose Middle School Academy on Monday to celebrate the school's impressive boost in attendance.

Much in life is about showing up. The city and school district should continue efforts to raise school performance by improving attendance.


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