Washington, D.C., June 7, 2016 – The release of the first-ever national compilation of data on how many public school students are missing so much school they are academically at risk shows the country is facing a crisis of chronic absence that’s keeping millions of kids from learning.
The national data released today by the U.S. Department of Education’s (ED) Office for Civil Rights found that more than 6.5 million students (13%) missed 15 or more days of school (nearly a month of school) during the 2013-14 academic year. ED also released a summary brief of the data, 2013-2014 Civil Rights Data Collection: A First Look.
Among high schools, three million students (18%) were chronically absent. Among elementary schools, chronic absence affected a greater number, 3.5 million students, but at a slightly lower rate (11%). Because the data is broken out by school level and not individual grades, the report could not validate the high levels of chronic absence that other state and local analyses have shown specifically for vulnerable students in kindergarten and 1st grade.
The national data also shows that some populations experience significantly higher rates of chronic absenteeism. Within the high school group, chronic absence rates were 26% for American Indian or Alaska Native students, 22% for African American students, 21% for Multiracial, 25% for Pacific Islander students and 20% for Latino students. Among elementary students, Native American, Pacific Islander and African American students were disproportionately chronically absent. Children with disabilities were more likely to be chronically absent in elementary and high school.
The Office for Civil Rights began collecting data on the number of students missing 15 or more days in one school year as part of the 2013-14 Civil Rights Data Collection (CRDC), thus creating the first national data set on chronic absence. Chronic absence was seen as an important addition to the CRDC because it allows an examination of access and equity across the nation’s public schools.
Too many missed days of school, regardless of whether absences are excused or unexcused, can leave children falling behind in reading and math. Research publicized by initiatives such as the Campaign for Grade-Level Reading show that starting in kindergarten, students who are chronically absent, (typically defined as missing 10% or more of school) are less likely to read by the 3rd grade. Chronic absence is also an early warning sign of failing courses in middle school leading to a greater chance of dropping out of high school. Chronic absences are especially challenging for low-income students whose academic achievement is affected the most by missed instructional time in the classroom.
“While today’s data, the first of its kind from the U.S. Department of Education, shows that chronic absenteeism is a national crisis, we must keep in mind that chronic absence is a solvable problem,” said Hedy Chang, Executive Director of Attendance Works. “Our work with districts across the country shows that chronic absences can be addressed when educators and community groups join forces to educate families about the importance of avoiding unnecessary absences and helping students overcome challenges to getting to school, such as asthma, lack of dental care, unstable housing, unreliable transportation or neighborhood violence.
“The key is knowing where chronic absence is a problem,” she continued, “so schools and communities can work together with the affected students and families to understand and address the barriers that keep children from getting the education they deserve.”
The Office for Civil Rights is expected to release data from the 2013-14 school year, searchable by school, district and state, over the course of the summer.
“This data is a call to action for states and communities to use the attendance data that they collect every day as an early warning sign that can be used to trigger action and support before students miss so much school they require costly remediation to make up for the missed instruction,” said Professor Robert Balfanz of the Everyone Graduates Center at Johns Hopkins University. “This data confirms the need for expanding the reach of proven attendance interventions such as the My Brother’s Keeper Success Mentor initiative.”
The key to improving attendance is for every district in the country to generate and analyze their chronic absence data and use it to engage community partners in identifying and overcoming attendance barriers, Balfanz explained. States also can play a critical role in helping build district capacity by including chronic absence as an alternative quality metric for school improvement as they develop their state plans for implementation of the Every Student Succeeds Act.
The chronic absence data was released close to the opening of the Every Student Every Day National Conference: Eliminating Chronic Absenteeism by Implementing and Strengthening Cross-Sector Systems of Support for All Students, held in Arlington, Va. Sponsored by ED, the first-ever national conference on chronic absence attracted teams from more than 35 states as well as the 30 school districts that are participating in the My Brother’s Keeper Success Mentor initiative. The Success Mentor districts include Albuquerque NM, Baltimore MD, Cleveland OH, Dallas TX, Detroit MI, Flint MI, Fresno CA, Hartford CT, Indianola MS, Jacksonville FL, Kansas City, MO, Los Angeles, CA, Milwaukee WI, Minneapolis MN, Oakland CA, Orlando FL, Pine Ridge Reservation SD, Pittsburgh PA, Portland OR and Sacramento CA.
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