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:
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:
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 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.
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.