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New Jersey Reports Finds 125K Chronically Absent Students

September 11, 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 2012­-2013 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 2013­-2014 school years, there were only three chronically absent children out of 85 K-­12 students.

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