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Oklahoma Redefines 'Full Time' Students to Allow for Several Missed Weeks

In Oklahoma, students could end up be considered full time, even if they've missed the first several weeks of school, under a new state policy that holds implications for teacher accountability.

Every year, schools across the United States prepare for "student count days," that ritual in which states count how many students show up for class and use it to determine funding. 

In Oklahoma, student count day occurs on Oct. 1. But up until this year, the Tulsa World reports, student count day did not determine which students are considered full-time. That determination, instead, occurred after the first 10 days of school. If a student hadn't enrolled in the first two business weeks of school, then they're not really full-time, the state reasoned. (In the way that someone who didn't show up to work for the first two weeks of a job would also be considered part-time, if part-time were synonymous with "fired.")

That policy is changing, however, as the state education department confirmed today rumors that it plans to make student count days the point at which the state determined which students qualified as full-time. That means a student could be absent for the first several weeks of school, enroll on student count day, and be considered full time, thus also making his or her teachers academically accountable, under the state's evaluation policy. Teachers are largely not held accountable for part-time students.

"If the school is receiving money for that child, it should be accountable for that child," Phil Bacharach, a state education department spokesman, told the World. He noted that other states have similar policies.

The state would view this as a win-win: Either districts push to improve attendance, or they get less money. But if districts had an easy time getting all of their students to class, they probably wouldn't be going all-out on student count days to draw children to school.

Then again, the department's action might in part be a reaction to schools using special events to draw otherwise absentee students in for count days. If so, Oklahoma districts may end up re-evaluating just how enticing count days should be.

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