Rhode Island’s efforts to track chronic absence illustrates the power of combining pioneering local work with a robust data system and state leaders who know how to use a combination of convening, good data and press coverage to inspire action across the state.  It also reveals the tremendous importance of taking an interagency approach, especially in high poverty districts with significant challenges to getting to school.

Statewide Data Analysis

Mapping the Gap:  Read Mapping the Early Attendance Gap:  Charting A Course for School Success.  This report, released by Attendance Works and Healthy Schools Campaign in September 2015, encourages states to dig deep into their attendance data and determine the who, what, when, where and why of their chronic absence problem. Read the in-depth state profiles for California, Rhode Island, and Utah.

Rhode Island KIDS COUNT: Starting in 2010, the statewide policy and advocacy group began including indicators for early chronic absence (kindergarten through third grade) and middle and high school chronic absence in its annual Factbook. Updated each year, the Factbook now serves as an ongoing mechanism for creating public accountability for taking steps to reduce chronic absence.

Rhode Island Data HUB: A coalition that includes the state Department of Education, other state agencies and the Providence Plan, the Data Hub analyzed attendance data to assess the effect of absenteeism on achievement. Its reports include:

 

Chronic Absenteeism Among Kindergarten Students followed a cohort of students though several years and found that those who were chronically absent in kindergarten were:

  • 20% less likely to score proficient or higher in reading
  • 25% less likely to score proficient or higher in math
  • Twice as likely to be retained in grade
  • Twice as likely to be suspended by the end of seventh grade
  • More likely to continue being chronically absent.

High School Absenteeism and College Persistence followed the high school graduating class of 2009 from their freshman year of high school through college. Researchers found:

  • 20% of the students who graduated were chronically absent
  • About 34% of the chronically absent graduates went on to college or a post-secondary setting.
  • Only 11% of the chronically absent students went on to a second year of post-secondary education, compared to 51% of other students.

The Educational Cost of Unhealthy Housing examined the educational costs of unhealthy housing using lead exposure as a proxy. Researchers found:

  • 1 in 5 rising kindergarten students in Rhode Island has elevated blood lead levels with particularly high levels in urban areas.
  • As exposure to lead increases, so does student absenteeism, retention in grade and the need for special education services.
  • The same unhealthy housing conditions that contribute to lead exposure create triggers that exacerbate asthma and absenteeism.

Work in Local School Districts

Districts across the state have begun tracking chronic absence and intervening with students missing too much school. Here are some examples:

Providence

Reducing chronic absence is a priority for the Providence Children and Youth Cabinet, co-chaired by the mayor and the superintendent. The cabinets work includes:

  • A city-wide messaging campaign
  • In-depth work with six schools that formed their own school attendance teams and saw reductions
  •  City Year national service members helping with outreach and support to students with a prior history of chronic absence.
  • Walking school buses created by Safe Routes to School
  • Attention to health-related causes of chronic absence with support from a Rhode Island Department of Health grant.

Read about work at Robert Bailey IV Elementary School.

Cranston

In  Cranston,  then-Superintendent Judith Lundsten developed the Attendance Counts! Task Force in Spring 2014 with 30 members from all sectors of the community. The task force developed a multi-year plan to educate everyone about the importance of school attendance and use data to identify and support families. Its website includes tips for parents, teachers and afterschool providers.

Central Falls

Central Falls has been working to reduce chronic absence for a number of years and has found that parents are important partners in the work. For example, they have found that parents in the schools greeting students as they enter the building builds on existing relationships and fosters regular attendance. Last year, in 2014, Central Falls established a community collaborative designed to tackle chronic absence in the city’s public schools. This collaborative’s Back to School Campaign was lead by City Councilwoman and School Committee Member Stephanie Gonzalez, and involved school, community, and municipal partners. The goal was to promote the importance of school attendance and included home visits to students with a past history of chronic absence.

Newport

In December 2013, Newport established a Chronic Early Absence and Truancy Reduction Initiative, that brings together school and community stakeholders along with parents to collectively work together to address the issue. This effort, supported by funding from the van Beuren Charitable Foundation, is allowing the community to use data to identify where problems are and use a three-tiered approach to provide universal chronic absence prevention for all students, more intensive supports for at-risk students, and personalized, targeted supports for the highest risk students.