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KEEPING CLASSROOMS FILLED

A tough new attendance policy adopted by Buffalo schools has passed its first test, as student attendance rose dramatically in Buffalo high schools this year.

Through late May, districtwide attendance was 92.35 percent, an increase from last year's rate of 90.6 percent, and attendance increases - some of more than 10 percent - were recorded at all 17 city high schools.

That increase is critical, because students who don't show up don't stand a chance of showing that they can meet the stricter state academic standards they now face.

Under the new policy, students receive failing grades for each marking period during which they attend school less than 85 percent of the time. Previously, the district relied on state guidelines that require students to attend school every day. But there were no specific consequences if regular attendance didn't occur.

It took years to finally push through an attendance policy with teeth. The School Board finally made it a priority, said Board Member Donald A. Van Every. The Rev. Darius Pridgen guided the proposal.

While the new policy seems to be increasing attendance, there is a down side. Hundreds of students who logged too many absences are unable to take final exams. That is troubling, and the School Board and district must find creative ways to implement the attendance policy without losing so many young people who aren't meeting the standard.

That applies, too, to the expected problems with requirements that students pass tough Regents exams to graduate. This year, 120 high school seniors failed the Regents math exam and won't get their diplomas unless they pass the exam scheduled at the end of summer school in August. The failures at least ought to give administrators a good idea which schools need concentrated help - as, for example, at Burgard Vocational High School, which hadn't even offered Regents-level math courses until the statewide mandates.

But no added instruction in the world can educate an empty seat. Given the high standards we expect our students to achieve, Buffalo's attendance policy is a step in the right direction. As School Board President Paul G. Buchanan said, "You can't learn if you aren't in school."

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