September 11th, 2015
An analysis of absenteeism in New Jersey found that more than 125,000 students from kindergarten through 12th grade missed 10 percent or more of the 2013-14 school year, and much of the problem was concentrated in 177 of the state’s school districts.
Advocates for Children of New Jersey (ACNJ) effectively mapped the state’s attendance gaps in Showing Up Matters: The State of Chronic Absenteeism in New Jersey. The state requires school districts to track chronic absence, defined as missing 10 percent or more of the school year for any reason — excused or unexcused. With support from the Annie E. Casey Foundation, ACNJ analyzed the state Department of Education data.
The results reflected many of the findings of our national study, Mapping the Early Attendance Gap. The New Jersey analysis shows:
- Chronic absenteeism starts early with 12 percent of the state’s kindergartners missing too much school. That compares to 11 percent of 9th graders and 12 percent of 10th graders.
- Children from low-income families are more likely to be chronically absent. Nearly 15 percent of these students missed too much school, while the statewide average was 10 percent. Nearly 28 percent of homeless children were chronically absent.
- Children of color are more likely than peers to miss 10 percent or more of the school year. About 15 percent of black students and 12 percent of Hispanic students were chronically absent, compared to 8.3 percent of their white counterparts. Still. white kids constituted the largest number of chronically absent students
- Students with disabilities had rates of chronic absence: 15 percent compared to the statewide average of 10 percent.
“No matter the age, when students are missing too much school, their chances of academic success are dramatically reduced,” said Cecilia Zalkind, Executive Director of ACNJ, a statewide child advocacy organization said in a news release Thursday. “Schools must take the proven steps that improve attendance.”
Beyond the who and when of chronic absence, the New Jersey report looks at where the problem is concentrated. It also provides county-by-county breakdowns.
We’re excited about this report, because it shows what can happen when a state begins monitoring chronic absence. New Jersey added the metric to its accountability system under its No Child Left Behind waiver. This reports helps the state, as well as schools and districts, put the numbers in context and direct resources to the students who need the most support.
We also appreciate the attention paid to the importance of taking a comprehensive solution. The report explains “Children’s school attendance is linked to how their environments — families, school and community — address their needs. Although parents are responsible for making sure their children attend school every day, schools must be mindful of the challenges that barriers to that end. This is particularly true for students living in poverty. Improving chronic absenteeism must be a team effort, which includes school leaders, teachers and parents. Each can play an important role in making a difference in making a difference in students’ overall school success.”
Already, New Jersey schools along with community partners have started to use the data to turn around attendance. The press release describes two examples:
Already, schools have started to use the data to turn around attendance. The press release describes two examples:
In Paterson, School 5, a K6 school with more than 95 percent of its students considered “economically disadvantaged,” embraced the opportunity to improve attendance of implementing many of these best practices, such as contacting each family after an absence. Under Sandra Diodonet, School 5’s former principal, leadership, chronic absenteeism declined from 152 students in the 20122013 school year to just 36 in the following year—a 76 percent decrease.
Similarly, former Superintendent Lynda Anderson-Towns of Woodbine School district began educating faculty and parents on the importance of coming to school with big banners displayed in Spanish and English highlighting the importance for students to come to school every day. The message is repeated throughout the year in school newsletters, parent meetings and other communications. After implementing best practices, in 20132014 school years, there were only three chronically absent children out of 85 K12 students.
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September 6th, 2015
The Healthy Schools Campaign originally published this blog post on improving attendance through an innovative practice known as teledentistry.
A terrible toothache is virtually impossible to ignore. For millions of children across the nation, the consequences of untreated tooth decay extend far beyond momentary pain to include potentially devastating effects on their long-term learning and opportunity.
Now, a new approach called teledentistry offers the promise of addressing this issue and relieving the lifelong burden it places on young children.
Dental Health Affects Learning and Opportunity
Persistent pain, along with related trouble eating and sleeping, makes oral health one of the leading causes of chronic school absenteeism among young students. A full 20 percent of children aged 5 to 11 years have at least one untreated decayed tooth. Among school-age children, tooth decay is the most common chronic disease, five times more prevalent than asthma. Children between 5 and 17 years miss nearly two million school days in a single year nationwide due to dental health-related problems.
This, in turn, can have a significant impact on students’ lifelong opportunity. For example, research shows that children who are chronically absent in both kindergarten and first grade are much less likely to be reading at grade level by the third grade; and students who are not reading at grade level by the third grade, in turn, are four times more likely to drop out of high school.
The tremendous scale of these consequences is especially poignant because dental health problems are so often preventable and easily treatable with access to primary dental care. Barriers related to cost, transportation, language and other logistics, however, have put this basic care out of reach for millions of U.S. children.
TeleDentistry Brings Care to the Community
Now, a new program is removing these barriers with powerful results for children’s health and practical savings for the health care system.
By leveraging familiar technology and a practical, cost-effective model called teledentistry, innovative care providers are bringing high-quality dental services to children in the school setting.
The result: Students get the care they need to stay in class and learn. Emergency room visits and complex, costly treatments (often paid for by Medicaid or related state-run programs) are replaced by effective and low-cost preventive care.
Teledentistry utilizes the technology widely used in dentists’ offices, such as X-ray machines, with the added advantage that this technology has become more precise and more portable than ever and is therefore now practical in community settings such as schools.
Specially trained dental health professionals — most often dental hygienists who have taken part in additional professional development — are deployed to community sites to provide preventive care and basic treatments with a set of tools and technologies that essentially constitute a portable pop-up clinic. They take X-rays, provide professional cleaning, apply sealants and fluoride treatment, and also apply interim therapeutic restorations, a technique that alleviates the pain and limits the spread of a cavity until the student can see a dentist. They also provide education on oral hygiene and nutrition as it relates to oral health. These dental professionals work closely with supervising dentists to identify more complex problems and develop ongoing treatment plans.
The Pacific Center for Special Care and The Children’s Partnership, who collaborated on a successful teledentistry demonstration program in California, explain in their fact sheet:
Typically, a dental hygienist will bring a portable dental chair, a laptop computer, a digital camera, and a handheld X-ray machine—which, together, can all fit into the trunk of a car—to a site such as a preschool, elementary school, or community center. Within minutes, children and others who need care are getting state-of-the-art diagnostic, preventive, and early intervention dental care.
Meanwhile, dentists are able to stay in their clinics and focus primarily on addressing the most advanced and complex needs of patients. From their clinics, dentists also play a role in the care delivered in the community: They review X-rays, assess care needs and develop treatment plans while supervising the dental professionals who provide front-line care in the community.
Teledentistry has proven to be so effective in part because of the improvements in technology we’ve seen in recent years. Yogita Thakur, who served as dental director for one of the sites in the California demonstration program, explained: “Think about how far we have come in the resolution of digital images in the last ten years. In many cases, digital imagery is providing us a clearer look into the patient’s mouth than we can get with our own two eyes.”
When more complex care is needed, the community dental professionals arrange for such care to be provided in the community setting or can organize a follow-up appointment in the dentist clinic. (Importantly, they can also work with the school to help address barriers that students may face in making it to the appointment.) The demonstration program found that about two-thirds of children can achieve and maintain good dental health with care provided in the community setting.
Improved Dental Health = Fewer Missed School Days
By making preventive care and basic treatment accessible in schools, teledentistry removes one of the most significant barriers children face to good attendance and academic success. The consequences are profound for children’s education and for their lifetime health.
The good news is that the practical nature and demonstrated positive results of teledentistry are capturing the attention of policymakers, the public health community and leaders in the dentistry sector. The state of California, for example, recently adopted legislation that will help expand teledentistry to underserved populations across the state.
Expanding teledentistry to increasing numbers of students holds great promise in efforts to combat health-related chronic absenteeism on a large scale, with huge rewards for children’s health and lifetime opportunity.
Learn more about teledentistry and specifically about the results of the Pacific Center for Special Care and The Children’s Partnership demonstration project here.
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September 3rd, 2015
We partnered with America’s Promise Alliance President John Gomperts on this commentary piece, which was first published on Medium.
The problem starts early.
Chronic absenteeism affects at least 10 percent of kindergartners and first graders every year. It leads to lower test scores and lower grades. If it continues through middle school, it’s likely the student won’t last through high school. By the time freshman year rolls around, it becomes a better dropout indicator than test scores.
In fact, in Utah, students who missed 10 percent of the school year in any year starting in eighth grade were more than seven times more likely than their regularly attending peers to leave high school without graduating.
So what causes chronic absenteeism? If you guessed students skipping school, that’s only part of the story. A new study finds that illness, often tied to or exacerbated by poverty, is a big problem, especially in the early grades. It’s asthma and dental problems, learning disabilities, and mental health issues related to trauma and community violence that contribute to chronic absenteeism.
The report from Attendance Works and the Healthy Schools Campaign, Mapping the Early Attendance Gap: Charting a Course for School Success, finds that students from low-income families and communities of color are more likely to miss too much school. So are students with disabilities. These attendance gaps start as early as preschool and kindergarten and soon turn into achievement gaps.
One national study estimates that 5 million to 7.5 million students miss as much as an entire month in the academic year.
It comes as no surprise that these students are also the least likely to graduate from high school. This past spring’s Building a Grad Nation report found that, while national on-time graduation rates are up as a whole, students from low-income families, students of color and students of disabilities are still behind.
To improve high school graduation rates for all students, we must reduce chronic absenteeism for all students.
But first, we need to have a better understanding of the scope and scale of the problem itself. That means mapping our attendance gaps, and analyzing the data to determine who is missing school, when they’re most likely to be absent, where the problem is most severe and why it’s happening.
Once we understand the causes, the solutions become clear. One example: When a central Texas analysis found that the number one reason kids were missing school was because of acute illness, officials began an aggressive campaign to offer the flu vaccine at school. The E3 Alliance, a cradle-to-career partnership, expects to deliver more than 26,000 free vaccines this fall.
And second, we need to think outside the classroom to improve attendance inside it. This means educators partnering with families, local government, nonprofits and public health networks.
In Providence, Rhode Island, housing issues were causing asthma and lead poisoning problems for many low-income kids, so schools began partnering with housing groups, lead abatement programs and other safe-and-healthy home efforts.
And in Springfield, Massachusetts, activists came up with a way to counter concerns about safety, while boosting attendance and fitness. Every morning, dozens of elementary school students wait for the “Walking School Bus.”
Led by teachers and parents, the walk provides a safe and healthy way for kids to get to school. One student who was tardy or absent for 22 days in the prior school year wasn’t late or absent once after joining the program.
This year, more than 4 million young people are starting their freshman year of high school. To help them make it to the end of senior year, schools and communities must work together to reduce rates of chronic absenteeism.
It’s time to move away from the standard system of find and punish, and instead find ways to work together to map and heal.
Attendance Works and Healthy Schools Campaign will be discussing their brief and talking with state leaders who have committed to reducing chronic absence during a webinar at 2 p.m. ET on Sept. 9. Register here.
Hedy Chang directs Attendance Works, a national and state level initiative aimed at advancing student success by addressing chronic absence. John Gomperts is president and CEO of America’s Promise Alliance, which leads the GradNation campaign.
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