Absence Of Sense In Exam-Exemption Policy

Among the social experiments and policies in our schools that I don’t pretend to understand is the one on absences. I won’t even get into how many more religious holidays and related excused-absence days surely loom.

The case in point here is prompted by Eid al-Ftr, the Muslim celebration that marks the end of Ramadan. Students who have missed this day have regularly received excused absences. Nothing new in that. The real news is that such students will no longer have that absence count against their attendance record. That’s important because students with exemplary, especially perfect, attendance records can avail themselves of a major perk. They can be exempted from semester exams.

The exam-exemption policy, implemented in 1999-2000, was designed to improve attendance. And it’s been of some help. Average high school attendance, for example, exceeded 93 percent last year. That’s an increase of about 2.5 percentage points from the pre-exemption era. And it’s a factor in figuring a school’s grade on the state report card.

Arguably, however, it’s also a factor in the hefty hike — 74 percent from 1998-99 to 2001-02 — in school clinic visits by students showing up sick. Encouraging students to put in a cameo when ill is not a healthy — or pedagogically sound — policy.

I know I’m na

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