We have discussed the issue of chronic absenteeism before, but there is a new report out today that gives dimension to the extent of the problem.
(Please note that the Get Schooled blog preceded the Get Schooled Foundation cited in this release, but there is no relationship between the two.)
Absenteeism is a parent problem. And it speaks to larger problems when a parent doesn’t see the importance of getting their children to school. I have talked to parents who allow their children stay home because they are tired, sometimes from staying up the night before to watch a playoff game or some other TV event. I also know parents who become enraged at the teacher or the school and keep their child home.
And there are the hapless parents who oversleep and don’t get themselves or their kids out of bed on time. A friend worked as a court-assigned mentor to a family where the 9-year-old girl had missed 20 days of school. She said the mother let the child stay up to midnight or later watching TV and then both slept the next day to 10 or 11. The mother did not have a car so the only way she could transport her daughter to school was MARTA, and she just wasn’t willing to make the effort so the girl ended up missing the entire day.
I also interviewed a truancy officer from a rural district who said that transportation played a role there as well; the child was late, missed the bus and the parent either didn’t have a working car to drive the child to school or had to go to work in the opposite direction and didn’t have the time.
(Kudos to Georgia for being one of only six states that reports chronic absenteeism.)
Here is the release on a study on the extent of the absenteeism problem. (Also, the Get Schooled Foundation has an online attendance calculator you ought to check out.)
Chronic absenteeism in American schools is a largely unnoticed and unmeasured problem affecting the educational outcomes of millions of students and undermining critical school improvement efforts, according to The Importance of Being in School, a new report by Johns Hopkins University School of Education researcher Dr. Robert Balfanz.
Conducted with support from the Get Schooled Foundation, the report will be released today simultaneously at a congressional briefing and at the Education Writers Association’s national conference.
The report found only a handful of states measure and report on chronic absenteeism, which the report defines as missing at least 10 percent of school days in a given year, or about 18 days. It estimates that 10 to 15 percent of students nationwide are chronically absent. That adds up to 5 million to 7.5 million students who miss enough school to be at severe risk of dropping out or failing to graduate from high school.
“As a mom and former preschool teacher, I know how devastating chronic absenteeism is to the ability of students to learn and grow,” said Washington Senator Patty Murray, a member of the Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee. “This important research shines a bright light on this problem in our schools and it makes it clear that we all need to do more to make sure students make it into the classroom so they have the best chance to succeed.”
The data problem is structural and runs from the school to the state to the federal level. At the school level, chronic absenteeism is largely masked by daily attendance rates. A school can report a 90 percent average daily attendance rate and have 40 percent of students chronically absent, because on different days different students make up the 90 percent. Schools know that students are missing but don’t look at the data by student to show individual absenteeism rates.
“Because we don’t measure or monitor the problem, we generally don’t act on it,” said Balfanz, director of the Everyone Graduates Center at Johns Hopkins. “Left untreated, the problem will likely worsen achievement gaps between rich districts and poor districts and curtail the positive effects of promising current and future reforms.”
The findings are sobering:
•Students who are chronically absent in one year will likely be so in subsequent years and may miss more than half a year of school over four or five years.
•Urban schools often have chronic absentee rates as high as one third of students, while poor rural areas are in the 25 percent range.
•While the problem affects youth of all backgrounds, children in poverty are more likely to be chronically absent. In Maryland, chronic absentee rates for poor students were more than 30 percent, compared to less than 12 percent for students from more affluent families.
•Chronically absent students tended to be concentrated in a relatively small number of schools. In Florida, 52 percent of chronically absent students were in just 15 percent of schools.
•In some school districts, kindergarten absenteeism rates are nearly as high as those in high school.
The magnitude of the problem is likely understated as Balfanz and his researchers could find chronic absenteeism reported for only six states: Georgia, Florida, Maryland, Nebraska, Oregon and Rhode Island. Several states, including California and New York, do not even collect the individual data needed to calculate chronic absenteeism.
The impact of these missed days is dramatic – students are less likely to score well on achievement tests and less likely to graduate. Students who miss 10 percent of school days on average score in the 30th percentile on standardized reading and math tests, compared to those with zero absences, scoring in the 50th percentile.
Looking at data from multiple states and school districts, the researchers found that consistently high chronic absenteeism was the strongest predictor of dropping out of high school, stronger even than course failures, suspension or test scores. Data from Georgia showed a very strong relationship between attendance in grades 8-10 and graduation. There was as much as a 50 percentage-point difference in graduation rates for students who missed five or fewer days compared to those who missed 15 or more days.
These findings have been extrapolated into a user-friendly attendance calculator that allows users to see a personalized view of the impact of missed days on the likelihood of graduating and on math and reading achievement tests.
“Dr. Balfanz’s research shows that we must address the attendance problem if we are going to have the kind of broader school improvement we want and our students deserve,” said Marie Groark, Executive Director of Get Schooled. “The good news is that many of us are working in innovative ways to get the simple message of missing matters to parents and students.”
The report did find signs of hope, including examples of schools and districts making substantial improvements in addressing absenteeism and attendance problems. Among others, Get Schooled’s Attendance Challenge, a friendly national competition designed to motivate students to attend school, has seen strong results. Most recently, Lincoln High School (Warren, MI), bested other Detroit-area high schools when it raised its attendance by more than 8 percent over three months.
In New York City, Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg’s Interagency Task Force on Truancy, Chronic Absenteeism and School Engagement is piloting strategies in 50 schools – and adding another 50 this fall – to identify the best practices to reduce chronic absenteeism in schools across the five boroughs and especially in high school where chronic absenteeism rates are higher. Students in pilot schools who were paired with success mentors, gained an additional 11,820 more days of school this year than their counterparts at comparable schools.
The report recommends that chronic absenteeism (not just daily attendance rates) be included in the annual Department of Education Office of Civil Rights School Survey and in state accountability indexes. It also called for early warning and intervention systems and community-wide attendance improvement efforts to spread broadly across the nation.
“The new report shines a critical and much needed spotlight on the prevalence of chronic absenteeism and its devastating consequences,” said Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg. “As the nation’s largest school district, we see the challenges it poses to our students and schools – which is why we launched a Task Force to use innovative strategies to get students to school every day. With more attention to and study of this problem, districts across the country will have the tools they need to help their students thrive.”
–From Maureen Downey, for the AJC Get Schooled blog