reconsidering absence

Okay, it’s been a while since I wrote about writing up my new attendance policies, and my overall feeling is that the policy itself might make very little difference. I finally realized that attendance is actually something I could track with, you know, numbers and stuff.

I came up with a simple formula to help me out: N/D * 100, where N = the number of absences, D = the total number of class meetings, and 100 = 100 (to turn it into a percentage). I then averaged this percentage across students to come up with a single “Absence Factor” for each of my courses in the past couple of years.

Here are how recent numbers fell out for me:

Fall 2006: 11%
Spring 2007: 8.6%
Fall 2007: 6.4%
Winter 2008 (so far): 7.5% and 10.2%

I think these numbers really test some of the assumptions we (or I) often make, like the idea that attendance takes a dive in the spring term. I was also surprised to see that loosening my policy between Spring ’07 and Fall ’07 didn’t result in a mass exodus. In fact, last fall was the “most attended” course of the bunch.

With that in mind, I further reduced the impact attendance has on grades for Winter ’08. But even here, nothing seems conclusive. I’m teaching two sections of the exact same class, and one has a respectable 7.5%, while the other is a somewhat disturbing 10.2%. I might blame part of that 10.2% on one student who has missed 50% of our meetings, but it might also have to do with the fact that that class meets earlier in the morning.

But even as I try to make sense of these numbers, I wonder if maybe they don’t mean anything at all. Maybe attendance, like many things in teaching, is just a matter of luck.


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