In California today, one in ten students misses two or more days of school each month, enough to be chronically absent.
Research shows that these young people—nearly 700,000 students—are more likely to struggle with math and reading, fail classes, or drop out of school altogether. Chronic absence adds to achievement gaps because students from low-income communities face greater hurdles to getting to school and have fewer resources to make up for lost learning time. And when lots of children in a classroom are chronically absent, it can affect the learning environment for all students.
The reasons children miss school frequently may surprise you. Some common barriers include health problems, a lack of transportation, concerns about safety on or near campus, and a feeling of disconnectedness from school caused by an unwelcoming climate or instructional methods that don’t feel culturally relevant.
High chronic absence levels are a flashing red alert that something is amiss at home, in the community, within the school or a combination of all. Even moderate levels of chronic absence can signal that schools are having difficulties creating a school climate that motivates strong attendance, or that a school improvement effort is not effectively engaging and meeting the needs of students and families.
Finding chronic absence in a school is not cause for scolding or blaming. Rather, it is a call to action for school leaders, students, families, public agencies, and nonprofits to work together to solve a very serious problem. Chronic absence is a sign that schools need additional support from the district, other public agencies and non-profits to address these barriers.
Reducing chronic absence starts by using data to reach students before they miss too many days, examining trends and looking into what is needed to turn chronic absence around. Thanks to new resources available online, that first step is easier than ever before.
As a result of the federal Every Student Succeeds Act, the California Department of Education (CDE) now collects attendance data for every school, district and county in California. These results are publicly available at CDE’s DataQuest online. You can also learn more about trends in your community by viewing the chronic absence story map created by the Center for Regional Change at the University of California, Davis.
With this information at hand, community leaders can better understand the steps they should take to partner with schools to get students to school so they don’t miss out on important learning opportunities. Successful strategies may include partnering with students and families to understand and address common barriers to getting to school, adopting a community-wide messaging campaign and expanding mentoring programs.
These and many other ideas are explained in a new report from Attendance Works,
Seize the Data Opportunity in California: Using Chronic Absence to Improve Educational Outcomes. The report analyzes the most recent data released by CDE to examine how many students were chronically absent for every school in California. It also suggests steps that everyone can take—from individual families to teachers to California’s Superintendent of Public Instruction.
Supported by The California Endowment, Seize the Data helps leaders identify what they can do to ensure that every student is in class every day, so they can learn, thrive, and grow into healthy adults.
Hedy N. Chang is Executive Director of Attendance Works, a national non-profit initiative dedicated to advancing student success and reducing equity gaps by addressing chronic absence. Learn more at www.attendanceworks.org