When it comes to high school attendance, Eagle River leads the district

Saturday, June 17, 2017 - 13:06

With the 2016-17 school year at an end, Eagle River High School can claim a notable distinction – a better attendance record than any other high school in the Anchorage School District.

For the month of April, the last month for which complete numbers are available, approximately 80 percent of ERHS students had a 90 percent attendance record or better, according to ASD data. Those numbers place ERHS well above all high schools, most middle schools and even a few elementary schools. Other Anchorage high schools, by comparison, hovered between 64-76 percent attendance in April.

It’s a trend: In February and March, about 77 percent of ERHS students maintained at least 90 percent attendance. Over the same period, other ASD high schools saw numbers between 56 and 73 percent, according to district attendance data. They averaged around 67 percent.

There’s no silver bullet for school attendance, said ERHS Principal Marty Lang. Instead, he said, attendance rates are the product of everything from community demographics to the atmosphere inside the classroom.

“There’s a couple of things that work in our favor,” Lang said. “One certainly is we have a large population of military dependants.”

Approximately half of all ERHS students come from military families, the principal said. Many of them live on Joint Base Elmendorf Richardson and catch a bus to school, making it difficult to cut class or show up late. Local parents are, for the most part, involved and attentive.

Perhaps more important, though, are the teachers and faculty at ERHS, Lang said.

“I think that’s one of the most important keys to getting kids to school: Creating an environment where they want to be here,” the principal said.

The benefits of strong attendance are well-known: Extensive research points to the deep impacts of regular attendance on educational outcomes. A 2003 study published in the academic journal Educational Research Quarterly affirmed the “strong positive relationship” between high attendance rates and high test scores. Other reports make the same findings.

On the other hand, not all absences are a bad thing.

“Quite honestly, in our community, a lot of our absences are families that are taking vacations together, they’re taking a week off to go hunting, they’re having experiences that are also value-added,” Lang said. “So while I’d love to see our attendance be 100 percent, at the same time, I understand the importance of that family time together.”

Contact reporter Kirsten Swann at kirsten.swann@alaskastar.com

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