May 31st, 2012
Add Chronic Absence to Race-to-the-Top Grants
We were thrilled to see that the latest round of Race to the Top focuses squarely on school districts and gives them extra points in the federal grant competition if they work with community partnerships. Such partnerships often provide the kind of support needed to knock down the barriers that keep students from attending school regularly.
We’re concerned, though, that the grant program’s definition of student attendance is too vague. We want to make sure that the districts who win a piece of the $400 million in grant money are tracking chronic absence rates, not just average daily attendance.
With that in mind, we’ve posted a comment on the Department of Education blog, where federal officials are accepting input until June 8. If we can succeed in changing the definition, this could represent the first time that a federal grant program has recognized chronic absence as an early warning indicator of academic trouble.
We need your help. Go to the Education website and post a comment advocating for districts to monitor chronic absence. Feel free to adopt language from our statement. You can also comment on our post (search for Hedy or chronic) or simply vote for it (click on the up arrow just left of the blog post.)
Here’s our post:
Definition of Student Attendance: I urge you to clarify your definition of student attendance and require participating districts to monitor the percent and number of students who are chronically absent – missing 10% or more of school over the course of a year for any reason including excused and unexcused absences and suspensions.
Our research, Present, Engaged, and Accounted For, demonstrates that chronic absence is a proven early warning indicator of academic trouble starting in kindergarten. By middle school, it signals that a student will eventually drop out of high school. The impact can go beyond just those students missing school. If a significant number of children in a classroom or school are chronically absent, it can adversely affect all students by slowing the pace of instruction.
A new report, The Importance of Being In School now shows that an estimated 5-7.5 million students are chronically absent nationwide. In some communities, as many as one out of three students are chronically absent. Too often chronic absence goes unrecognized because districts and schools only track average attendance rates which can easily mask high levels of chronic absence.
Attendance Works has identified examples throughout the country of how schools and communities can turn around chronic absence and improve academic achievement. The key is schools partnering with community agencies and families to build a culture of attendance and using chronic absence data to identify and reach out students as soon as they begin to show signs of becoming chronically absent. Chronic absence data can also be used to identify the need for a programmatic or policy solution, such as improving access to health care, addressing inadequate transportation or changing ineffective, overly punitive school discipline policy
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