Attendance Works News

September 24th, 2014

9/30 Webinar: The PEOPLE Strategy

We know that students who miss too much school suffer academically at every age and every grade. And throughout September, hundreds of communities across the country have worked hard to raise awareness about the harmful impact of chronic absence by celebrating Attendance Awareness Month. In addition to raising awareness, what else can your community do to encourage students and families to get to school every day?

Join us for a webinar Tuesday, Sept. 30 from 2-3:30 ET as we introduce the new Attendance Works toolkit, The Power of Positive Connections: Reducing Chronic Absence Through PEOPLE. Use the PEOPLE strategy to learn how you can make students who are experiencing attendance challenges a Priority for Early Outreach this fall. Identify ways to encourage them through Positive Linkages to caring adults, enriching activities and needed supports such as health services so that they are Engaged and excited about coming to school.

If you’re planning to join in, consider attending with colleagues. Set up a meeting space–live or virtual–where you can talk about the webinar afterwards and how you can move these ideas in your community. Here are some sample discussion questions.

This webinar will also feature Hedy Chang, Director of Attendance Works, and a cross-section of speakers as they discuss the impact of positive connections on attendance. Our special guests include:

  • Don Olson, Superintendent, Del Norte County Unified School District, Del Norte, California
  • Paige Swan, Principal, Smith River Elementary School, Del Norte, California
  • Sarah Jonas, Senior Director of Regional Initiatives, National Center for Community Schools, The Children’s Aid Society
  • Dr. Joshua Solomon, Principal, Business of Sports School, New York City
  • Joe Vaverchak, Director, Attendance/Residency and McKinney Vento Liaison
  • Sarah Harris, Principal, Vance Village School, New Britain, Connecticut.

Register for this free webinar today!

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September 22nd, 2014

Join Us in Urging the Department of Education to Track Chronic Absence

The Department of Education has proposed revising the final requirements for the School Improvement Grant program, under a proposal released in the Federal Register. The proposed rule changes in part seeks to add clarity regarding turn around models, extend the timeline for schools to implement changes, provide additional strategy options for school improvement such as early education programs, extended learning time, and community like schools. Additionally the rule change proposes moving from a truancy measure to a chronic absence measure.

While the shift in the reporting requirements from truancy to chronic absence is much appreciated, we believe School Improvement Grant requirements could be further strengthened by moving beyond a day measure (15 days) to a percent measure which promotes early identification of chronically absent students

We are also advocating that the Department of Education consider using the 10 percent standard because it:

  • Is based upon numerous research studies
  • Ensures better comparison across districts and states because it helps account for varying lengths of the school year
  • Captures chronic absence among students who move from school to school, or district to district
  • Provides for easier data calculation for smaller jurisdictions that are less likely to have sophisticated student management systems,

To ensure poor attendance is identified as early as possible, we also point out the value of examining varying levels of absenteeism, as is supported by the free data tools offered by Attendance Works.  We also urge the Department of Education to make explicit the importance of paying attention to chronic absence as an integral part of achieving school improvement.

Please join us in this important opportunity to weigh in on this critical issue. The Department of Education is accepting comments through October 8th . Comments are limited to 5,000 characters.  Feel free to use Attendance Works commentsas a template for your own.

You can submit comments electronically through the Federal eRulemaking Portal here or via postal mail, commercial delivery or hand delivery: If you mail or deliver your comments about these proposed regulations, address them to Elizabeth Ross, U.S. Department of Education, 400 Maryland Avenue SW., room 3C116, Washington, DC 20202.  The proposed revisions to the School Improvement Grant program can be found here.

Given that we are in the midst of Attendance Awareness Month, this is a timely opportunity to speak up for more robust data collection on chronic absence at the federal level as we strive to ensure more children are in school every day to learn, grow and thrive.

If you have questions or need additional, information feel free to contact Sue Fothergill, Senior Policy  Associate for Attendance Works,

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September 15th, 2014

California leaders, new report call for better tracking of chronic absence

California state leaders—including lawmakers and education, human services, law enforcement and judicial chiefs–gathered in Sacramento last Thursday to recognize Attendance Awareness Month and launch an interagency effort to combat chronic absence. A report released Friday underscored the extent of the problem in the nation’s largest state.Calif event--Torlakson

In Sacramento, State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson, Secretary of Health and Human Services Diana S. Dooley, Assemblymember Shirley Weber, Superior Court Judge Stacy Boulware Eurie and Special Assistant Attorney General Jill E. Habig each committed to address chronic absenteeism in their own arena. Read more here and watch it live here.

“All of us have a part in preparing California’s children for brighter futures,” Torlakson said. “Through local and state collaboration, we can improve the overall health, safety and wellbeing of our children by promoting public awareness and reforms that improve attendance.”

They also called on the state to do a better job collecting and reporting on all aspects of attendance. California is one of a handful of states that does not collect attendance data in it student data system.

On Friday, California Attorney General Kamala D. Harris released a report documenting the levels truancy and chronic absence in elementary schools, noting high rates among African-American students, foster children and children who live in poverty. The report, In School On Track 2014, updates an analysis done last year exploring attendance problems statewide.

“This is a solvable problem,” Harris wrote in her report’s executive summary. “If local agencies have the information necessary to illuminate these patterns, they can direct resources to the students and families that need them the most.”

The overall numbers in Harris’s report showed attendance remains a problem across the state: About 250,000 elementary school students were chronically absent in the 2013-14 school year, meaning they missed at least 10 percent of the school year, or 18 or more days. Even more students were truant, meaning they missed 3 or more days without an excuse. The analysis showed:

  • African-American students had higher rates of chronic absence than any other group. Nearly one in five African-American elementary students, or more than 33,000 students, missed 10 of the school year. That’s a rate two and a half times higher than that for white students.
  • Suspensions accounted for an estimated 113,000 days missed in kindergarten through sixth grade. Again, African-American students were suspended at disproportionately high rates: They missed twice as many days to suspensions per student as white students did. So did Native-American youngsters. For special education students, the rate was three times higher than other students.
  • Low-income students continue to struggle with attendance, with about one in 10 suffering from chronic absence. About 15 percent of homeless children were chronically absent.
  • Foster children had high rates of absenteeism with 10 percent missing too much school. The rates could be even higher, the report states, since foster children frequently move from school to school. These and other migrant or mobile students could be tracked more easily if the state collected and reported data from all districts.

We’re pleased to see the state leaders keeping the issue of attendance in the public discourse.  Equally important, the leaders and the report shine a spotlight not just on truancy but also on chronic absence, a metric that includes both excused and unexcused absences.

When schools focus only on truancy, they can miss the fact that many young children are missing too much school in excused absences, as well. Young children can miss a lot of school due to illness, lack of transportation or simply because families don’t recognize how easily absences, even in the early grades, can jeopardize learning.

Just two absences a month can cause a child to fall off track. Whatever the reason, schools need to find out who these students are and work with families, in ways that are supportive not punitive, to get them back to class.

We were also pleased that the leaders and the report call for better attention to attendance data. We can’t target resources effectively if we don’t know which students, schools and communities have a problem with poor attendance.

California is a mixed bag when it comes to data collection. On one hand, it is one of just a few states that doesn’t track student attendance data in the state-wide database it maintains. That means state officials can’t track attendance trends among districts, schools or grade. And they can’t follow students who move from one district to another.

At the same time, California is asking its 1,100-plus school districts to track chronic absence data as part of a new Local Control Funding Formula. In the first year of implementation, barely one in five districts provided the information.

We hope this interagency effort will spur more districts to track this important data, because you can’t take action to improve attendance until you know there’s a problem in the first place.

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