- The Washington Times - Monday, February 28, 2005

Data show that Wilson High School in Northwest, a college preparatory school, has the fourth-highest truancy rate of all D.C. Public Schools (DCPS). Wilson Principal Stephen P. Tarason calls the rate “ridiculous,” arguing, “We send 89 percent of our seniors to two- and four-year colleges, and yet now have a 59 percent truancy rate? It doesn’t make any sense. It’s absolutely impossible.” Of course, it’s possible; Mr. Tarason used an inappropriate analogy to argue his point. The bottom line is, the D.C. Board of Education conceded the city’s embarrassingly high truancy rates last year, and is taking steps to make some headway to correct the problem. If principals aren’t on the same page as the board, however, the rates will only increase.

The school board admitted in June that DCPS has “high levels of truancy across schools levels, with 43 percent of senior high school students, 19 percent of junior high school and 15 percent of elementary school students in truancy for the 2003-2004 school year.” The data mean 1-in-4 students was truant. As a result, the board established a task force to tackle truancy. Specifically, the panel “will seek to indentify and/or modify exisiting procedures for capturing attendance data [and] reporting truancy numbers.”

Reginald B. Elliott, the principal of Moore Academy — an alternative high school with a 68 percent truancy rate — says the data collection process “is riddled with errors” and that “computers don’t talk to each other.” Mr. Tarason, on the other hand, mixes apples and oranges. While we applaud Wilson for sending 89 percent of its seniors to post-secondary institutions, that rate has nothing to do with the 59 percent truancy rate. For example, at the post-secondary level, freshmen from public schools often have to take remedial courses because they lag behind. Also, 59 percent of Wilson’s overall student population could be truant any given school year, while the senior class is but a small measure of that 59 percent.

The point of the emphasis on truancy is to give parents an idea of the quality of a public school. The point of the truancy task force is to acknowledge the problem, and then identify and implement corrective measures. The school board is moving in the right direction. All principals need to move in that direction, too.

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