Electronic Classroom of Tomorrow, a 6,700-student online charter school in Ohio, had a 100 percent attendance rate last school year, according to data required by the state education department.
“That obviously doesn’t sound right,” Nick Wilson, the school’s spokesman, acknowledged in an interview.
ECOT is not alone. Twenty of the state’s 41 online charters reported perfect attendance last year.
Those unlikely reports have prompted state officials to start rethinking the way attendance is calculated at the online schools. They are working to devise a formula that measures a “more meaningful attendance rate,” said Todd L. Hanes, the executive director of the Ohio education department’s office of community schools, the body that oversees online charter schools.
Under the present formula, Internet charter school students, most of whom take the classes from their homes, must complete 920 hours of instruction time per school year. The schools are required to withdraw students that are absent for 105 consecutive hours.
The state, however, did not require that students who were withdrawn be included in attendance reporting of online schools for the past school year. Therefore, attendance rates did not reflect the 10.5 to 21 days of unexcused absences—depending on the number of daily instructional hours the school reports—of students who were withdrawn for truancy.
“This sounds like just another way that charter schools are gaming the system,” Lisa Zellner, a spokeswoman for the Ohio Federation of Teacher, told the Associated Press.
In August, Mr. Wilson received revised attendance guidelines from the state Office of Community Schools for the current school year. The new guidelines say that students withdrawn due to nonattendance or truancy should have unexcused absences reflected in the year-end attendance record.
Based on the new guidelines, Mr. Wilson said, ECOT’s attendance rate would have been about 97 percent for last year. The requirement is 93 percent.
Mr. Hanes said the department wouldn’t ask the schools to recalculate last year’s attendance based on the new guidelines.
But e-schools whose attendance reports fail to reflect the new policy could face corrective action in the future.
A version of this article appeared in the October 04, 2006 edition of Education Week