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What is a Roll Call?

Roll calls are used in classrooms to check student attendance.
Congress takes a roll call to determine who is present and if there are enough lawmakers on hand to conduct official business.
Roll calls are common in prisons.
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  • Written By: Matthew F.
  • Edited By: Bronwyn Harris
  • Last Modified Date: 30 September 2014
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A roll call is a way of determining a count of people. It is a calling of names to determine those present or absent. It is commonly used in many different situations and by many organizations. It can be called by many different names; it is known as taking attendance in a classroom. It can also serve different purposes such as an honorary listing of names instead of the traditional count of those present. The roll call is common in classrooms, military organizations, political organizations, and prisons.

In classrooms throughout the educational system, calling roll is taken at the beginning of class, and sometimes again at the end. From elementary school to high school and college, roll call is taken from a class list to determine who is at class and who is absent. It is usually taken from an alphabetical list, and is accompanied by a calling of a name by a teacher. The student present will raise a hand or say “here” or "present" to indicate their presence, while an absent student’s name will be followed by silence.

A roll call in the military can refer to the act of calling names, the list of names, or a drum measure. In the U.S. Congress, members are not always required to be present. When they are, all of their names are sometimes read out to determine whether a quorum is present. This is to determine whether enough members are present to conduct certain acts of legislation.

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In para-military camps, such as law enforcement academies, a roll call is often used. In this case, it is used to determine those present, and also for inspection. Upon calling of names, members may have to step forward and face scrutiny from superiors. This method may be used in other job places for many different reasons. In a newsroom, a roll call may be followed by assigning of stories. In corporations or business, it can be used as an assignment of duties.

Some roll calls are used not for attendance, but for certain listings of people. Honorary versions have been used for the listing of those honored by awards or for those killed in action, such as during the 9/11 attacks in New York. Among the famous roll calls in popular culture are Ben Stein’s performance of it in the 1980s American movie, Ferris Bueller’s Day Off. His reading of attendance meets a snag when he gets to the name “Bueller.” His comical and monotone response to the silence is now famous: “Anyone? Bueller?”

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