Student absenteeism appeared to me to be the greatest factor contributing to student dropout and failure.  The pattern was consistent: The student would miss several lessons, become lost, fail the next quiz or test, then dropout.

As a result, last semester I required lesson make-ups for absences in my MA091 elementary algebra class, using the following attendance policy: “Upon any absence, phone or see the instructor for makeup assignment. A student will be dropped from the course if s/he accumulates more than three absences without a makeup. Three times tardy will be considered equivalent to one absence.”

The absent student was required to visit the Math Center and view the videotaped lecture for the missed lesson. Excellent lectures keyed to each text chapter and section are available from most publishers for Prealgebra, Elementary Algebra and Inter-mediate Algebra texts. The video taped lectures, helpfully keyed to the text chapter and section, are very understandable and comprehensive. The main drawback is that they are not interactive.  Therefore, I also require the student to visit the tutor desk or attend a scheduled weekly help session or make an appointment with me to review the missed material.  This also insures that the student finds making up missed lessons to be more work than attending class.

This requirement cut my absenteeism by a factor of five from the previous semester.  In the semester I began using this make-up policy, I averaged a little over one absence per class session.  In the previous semester I had averaged about eight absences per session.   The best part is that the absentee did not miss the lesson objective.

I dropped three students for excessive absences without make up.  I believe the first student I dropped thought I was bluffing.  He was both surprised and angry to find out that I was not.  The next two students accumulated nine and ten absences, respectively.  At first they made up all absences, but then they got so far behind in their work that they just let it go.

It took very little effort on my part to account for the absences and the make up.  I passed a clipboard with the class roster that the students initialed. Students arriving after the clipboard was returned would have their attendance marked with a red ‘T’.  I equated three tardies to one absence.  Those absent would have their attendance marked with a Red ‘A’.  Thus the accounting could not be negated by the student at the next session.

It can be a depressing, boring life for a bright youngster who drops out to face a lifetime of menial labor.  What is the worth of motivating even just one more development student to persist and succeed?  I consider it priceless.

–Dave Bahrs, Faculty, Mathematics, Montgomery College, MD

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