TAVARES — The high number of students missing at least 10 percent of school days has at least one Lake County School Board member concerned.

Marc Dodd, who represents the Clermont area, fretted over the 7,318 students that accrued at least eight absences through the first semester.

"To confess, I think the absenteeism is the one that makes me want to squirm a little bit," Dodd said during the mid-year progress assessment presented to the board during their regular meeting on Monday.

The number represents 18 percent of the student population and accounts for almost 1,400 more students than the 2016 mid-year when 15 percent of students missed at least eight days.

"Anytime you look at 20 percent or higher that's what research tells us is a critical indicator. So we're close with attendance, but were still below the 20 percent," said Kati Pearson, executive director of academic services and interventions for the district.

Pearson said the numbers do not include days missed due to Hurricane Irma or due to the lunar eclipse that cause some students to stay home. She said school and districts administrators use the mid-year numbers to get a better sense of why students are missing school.

"The early warning system gives us the flag of where it is occurring and then we can go in and find out the why is it occurring," Pearson said.

The typical reasons for absences are illness, transportation issues and student and parent apathy.

Right now, the standard response to absences is a robocall to parents. After four absences a letter goes out. After 10 missed days, the district's truancy office gets involved and a parent meeting is set.

Dodd wondered if earlier personal contact could improve attendance.

"There's something to be said when I pick up the phone and I have to explain to a person on the other end why my kid is absent as opposed to... the (automatic call) system. I can kind of avoid that, I can dodge that," Dodd said.

Pearson said some schools do intervene earlier with a personal call. The district standards are the Florida Department of Education requirements.

"Some schools may have personal calls. Most schools don't wait for 10 days. They monitor it monthly," she said.

While absences were up over 2016, students with at least two discipline referrals or school suspension were down over the same period.

Five percent of students or 2,253 had at least two referrals at the mid-year point compared to 3,057 or 8 percent of students last year. Those with at least two suspensions fell from 530 to 408 students.

"The number of referrals, I want to make sure, that it's not (because of) something that suggests you can not write a referral if you've got a disciplinary issue?," asked board Chairwoman Stephanie Luke, in regards to the drop in referrals.

Pearson said there was an effort to make referrals consistent and only issued when appropriate.

"We had a lot of referrals for very minor infractions like chewing gum. Gum chewing might bye an infraction. After you get three infractions, you get a referral. A referral stays on your discipline record," Pearson said. "We don't want to never, ever say that we don't want teachers to write or generate referrals."

Absences, referrals and suspensions are indicators of student success and graduation, she said.

Mid-year testing scores showed sharp gains in algebra and grammar school language arts.

Middle school algebra jumped to 73 percent comprehension from 61 percent in 2016. In high school, algebra scored were up to 46 percent from 36 percent a year ago. Scores for K-2 language arts jumped to 57 percent from 31 percent and grades 3-5 post scored of 49 percent compared to 40 percent in 2016.

"I'll give a shout out for algebra 1 both on the middle school and high school level. Seeing the mid-year performance data significantly trend higher than last year, that's a good reason to celebrate. I hope we'll see that return on the actual test," Dodd said.

Pearson said the mid-year scores help teachers know what areas classes struggle with and are not a part of a student's grade.