Attendance Works News

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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September 10th, 2014

State Schools Chiefs Commit to Reducing Chronic Absence

Recognizing the corrosive effect that absenteeism has on student achievement, five chief state school officers have committed to promoting solutions that can improve attendance across their states.

The school chiefs, who co-chair the Advisory Committee on Eliminating Chronic Absence, have asked local superintendents to take on the issue and develop programs that reduce chronic absence, a measure of attendance that includes both excused and unexcused absences.

Research shows that missing too much school for any reason, starting in the early grades, can leave students struggling to read proficiently by the end of third grade. By middle school, chronic absence is a red flag that a student might drop out.

“If students are not in school, students cannot learn,” said Lillian Lowery, Maryland’s State Superintendent of Schools, one of the five school chiefs leading the advisory committee. “When we talk about responsibility for making sure that happens, it doesn’t just include the educators in the schools. All adults responsible for that child have a role to play.”

The chiefs are working with the Campaign for Grade-Level Reading, which established the panel last year to address a challenge that is undermining student achievement from the early grades through high school. The GLR Campaign and its partner Attendance Works are working with 152 communities nationwide to improve attendance in the early grades as part of a broader strategy aimed at increasing the number of children from low-income families who master reading by the time they finish third grade.

While attendance is typically the province of local school districts, state policymakers play an important role in using chronic absence as an early warning indicator and an accountability measure. During September, which is Attendance Awareness Month, the state chiefs are taking a series of actions:

  •  California’s State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson is hosting a news conference on Thursday, Sept. 11, with other state leaders to call for a coordinated interagency effort to reduce chronic absence. He has sent parents a letter providing tips for better attendance; sent teachers a letter outlining concrete steps they can take to improve attendance; and urged local superintendents to join a Call to Action sponsored by the GLR Campaign and Attendance Works. Torlakson also is backing several pieces of state legislation that will make it easier to track chronic absence at the state level. In addition, California’s new education funding formula asks local districts to calculate chronic absence data, but there is no mechanism to gather the data at the state level. “Raising awareness about absenteeism is integral in furthering our efforts to develop early identification and prevention efforts to help students who may be at risk,” Torlakson said. “Our schools can have the very best facilities, materials and teachers in the world — but no school can reach a child who simply isn’t there.”
  • Maryland’s State Superintendent of Schools Lillian Lowery is communicating with administrators and educators to raise awareness of the chronic absence problem and to provide them with the tools they need to combat it. At a meeting with superintendents in August and another later this month, she is discussing the need for tracking and intervening with chronically absent students. The Maryland State Department of Education plans to meet with principals in late September and with social workers, health care providers and pupil personnel workers in October. The state Department of Education will provide toolkits, along with a webpage, to share resources with districts and schools. Maryland schools are required to report how many students miss 20 or more days a year.
  • New Mexico Secretary of Education Hanna Skandera is urging all local superintendents to join the Call to Action on chronic absence. In Albuquerque, the nonprofit Mission: Graduate is rolling out an attendance toolkit to help principals reduce chronic absence, and the city’s public schools are working to employ a proactive approach to absenteeism. The business community is joining the effort: The Greater Albuquerque Chamber of Commerce has supported legislation at the state level to combat chronic absenteeism as part of its student-centered policy agenda. “We know every student in New Mexico has the potential for greatness, but delivering on that promise begins with regular school attendance,” Secretary Skandera said. “In New Mexico, we have developed an early dropout warning system that measures several factors, including attendance, to let parents know if their child is in danger of dropping out as early as the third grade. The state has joined community partners to develop reforms aimed at boosting student achievement through attendance and, together, we can make sure our students are in the classroom to take advantage of their opportunities for success.”
  • Rhode Island Commissioner of Education Deborah A. Gist is speaking at a Sept. 29 lunch where Rhode Island KIDS COUNT will release new research showing the connection between absences in the early grades and later achievement. Rhode Island, which publishes chronic absence rates statewide, also has data connecting high school attendance to college completion rates. Gist is stressing chronic absence in her school visits and has focused on this topic in her Commissioner’s Corner blog. Providence, the state’s largest school district, has set up a system of “attendance teams,” and the Cranston schools have launched a citywide campaign called Attendance Counts. “We want all of our students to be ready and eager to attend school every day, so Rhode Island has taken a leading role in efforts to reduce chronic absenteeism,” Gist said. “As one of the first states to publish annual data on chronic absenteeism at the state and district levels, we have been proud to see many of our school leaders taking on the challenge of improving attendance. We will continue to work this year with all of our school districts to examine data on attendance and to develop strategies to reduce chronic absenteeism.”
  • Utah Interim Superintendent of Public Instruction Joel Coleman is supporting a statewide policy forum on Sept. 18, where policymakers, educators and community leaders will learn about the prevalence, causes, consequences and promising responses to chronic absenteeism. They will also make recommendations for state- and district-level policies and practices, and explore community partnerships that can support improved school attendance and student success. Gov. Gary Herbert has declared that September is Attendance Awareness Month. Five districts in Salt Lake County have formed a consortium and are working to align truancy and attendance policies. “Educators, community leaders and parents recognize the importance of school attendance so that students are well prepared for further education and career opportunities,” said Ann White, Utah’s interim director of Title I and Federal Programs. “Poor attendance can be turned around when schools, families and communities work together! We can make a difference when policies, priorities and practices are in place that track student attendance, nurture a habit of regular attendance and intervene in helpful ways when students fall off track.”

A report released this month by Attendance Works provides a state-by-state picture of how poor attendance correlates with lower test scores on the National Assessment of Educational Progress. It urges states to take a deeper dive into the attendance data they collect to determine how many students are missing so much school that they are at risk academically.

“I’m so impressed that these state chiefs have stepped forward to show leadership on reducing chronic absence,” said Ralph Smith, managing director of the GLR Campaign. “It will take a statewide approach to ensure that all school districts and all schools are tracking all the right data and taking the right steps to improve attendance.”

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September 8th, 2014

Can Robotics Improve Attendance?

robot chartWe know that quality summer programs help students return to school with stronger skills for the new year. But can these programs spur better attendance?

A study of a robotics program for Baltimore middle school students suggests that the engagement and interest generated over the summer carries into the school year. The STEM program, developed by the Baltimore City Public Schools  and supported by the U.S. Department of Education and local foundations, provided math and science instruction with an eye toward improving achievement and engagement. The hands-on program gave sixth- to eight-grade students a chance to build a robot. These robots then competed in a city-wide tournaments.

The program hasn’t met all of its goals: Enrollment and attendance in the program has fallen short, and math achievement hasn’t risen significantly.  But an analysis by the Baltimore Education Research Consortium found that school-year attendance rates are much higher for the students who attend the summer robotic programs than for similar students who didn’t. The results are particularly strong for the students with the weakest math skills.

Researchers Martha Abele Mac Iver and Douglas J. Mac Iver conclude:

When activities such as robotics engage them actively in building something complex that they can then manipulate and enjoy, they can see tangible results of their efforts, take pride in the competence they have demonstrated, and gain a vision for how what happens in school can be relevant for them both in the present and in the future.

Activities such as robotics may help develop the dispositions of an academic mindset ‐‐particularly the beliefs that ability and competence grow with effort, that “I can succeed at this,” and that “this work has value for me.” The results of this study suggest that continued investment in high‐interest elective activities such as robotics could have a significant impact on helping students remain engaged in school, who otherwise might begin to disengage and thus lower their chances for successful transition into college and career.

 

 

 

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