Attendance Awareness Month
KCSOS heads up awareness campaign to call attention to chronic absenteeism as new school year begins
By Christine Lizardi Frazier
Kern County Superintendent of Schools
When we talk about school attendance, people most often think of truancy. In simple terms, a truant student is one who willfully skips school or frequently shows up late.
Chronic absenteeism is a bigger issue and is defined as students who miss at least 10 percent of school days for any reason (excused or unexcused). That totals about 18 days of instruction time during the 180-day school year, or two to three days per month.
Students miss school days for a number of reasons, mostly for reasons that are no fault of their own. Chronic illness, such as asthma and allergies, sometimes plague our students. Kern County also has a high rate of poverty, which inherently leads to other challenges like unreliable transportation or housing issues and frequent relocations. Sometimes families are dysfunctional due to a parent or caregiver’s mental illness, drug or alcohol abuse. Students might struggle academically and shy away for fear of failure. Perhaps school bullying is the culprit.
Students in early grades are particularly vulnerable. National research shows that 1 in 10 kindergarteners and first graders are chronically absent. Children from low-income families, which are prevalent in Kern County, are at even greater risk of missing school days for some of the reasons listed above.
Third grade is an important barometer in school. Students who do not read proficiently by then often struggle in later grades and are four times more likely to drop out of school sometime during their academic career. There is a profound correlation between school attendance and reading levels in the early grades. For instance, 64 percent of kids with good attendance in kindergarten and first grade can read on grade level by third grade, while only 17 percent of kids who are chronically absent in kindergarten and first grade can read on grade level by third grade.
All too often these students continue to fall further and further behind. By junior high and high school, chronic absence is the leading indicator that a student will drop out of school.
It goes without saying that dropping out of school before high school graduation isn’t good for the individual. But, there is a lasting impact on our society as a whole. High school grads reap the rewards of better paying jobs. In fact, a high school graduate will earn on average $1 million more over their lifetime than a drop out. People who make more money, spend more money, spurring the economy. What’s more, dropouts are at higher risk of incarceration and rely more heavily on public assistance, both of which cost taxpayers a pretty penny.
As you can tell, addressing chronic absenteeism is much more than just a school or family issue. It is an issue that impacts every one regardless of whether or not you have kids in the public school system.
So what can we do to address this problem?
First and foremost, we must continue to call attention to the issue and communicate the importance of our school children being in school all day, every day. That is precisely the goal of our third-annual School Attendance Awareness Month campaign and our office’s ongoing work through the Truancy Reduction & Attendance Coalition of Kern (TRACK). TRACK is a partnership with school districts, law enforcement and concerned citizens.
Public services announcements, posters on GET buses and in movie theaters, direct outreach to parents through our schools and media coverage are among our outreach mechanisms this year.
Better attendance tracking in our schools is also on the horizon and will serve as a crucial piece of the puzzle moving forward.
Schools have historically NOT tracked data on chronic absenteeism, because they have not been required to do so. Instead, Average Daily Attendance (ADA) has been the focus. ADA is a percentage of students who show up every day and the basis for how schools receive their state funding. While ADA will stay an important measurement tool, schools will be required for the first time this year to provide data on chronic absenteeism to the state. This data will be made public.
Separately, but certainly related, the State Board of Education is poised to include tracking chronic absenteeism rates in the new school accountability index, which is nearing completion and is expected to be rolled out this year. Improving chronic absenteeism rates is one of several new ways schools will be annually evaluated.
All of this matters for one simple reason: the more information schools have about who is chronically absent and why, the better schools will be able to address the problem. This data can be used to trigger interventions so high-risk student populations receive the supports they need, ideally before they fall behind academically. Assembly Bill 1014, which will likely find its way to the Governor’s desk and be signed into law would establish a grant program for schools to implement attendance interventions for children in grades K-3.
For more information about Chronic Absenteeism and for ways to get involved in combating the problem, a dedicated local resource is available at www.kernstayinschool.org.
Let’s give all of our kids their best chance for success. Let’s ensure they are in school all day, every day!