Chronic absences a serious problem in school

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Absenteeism is a major issue for Libby’s kindergarten through 12th grade students. I believe our board, staff and community should be aware of the current trends and complications associated with chronic absenteeism.

Hedy Chang, director of Attendance Works, published an article in the October 2013 District Administration Magazine that conveys this as a rising student problem. I believe the following excerpts from Chang’s article speaks to this concern and offers some recommendations to rectify it. I hope you find this information enlightening. Please contact me if you would like a complete version of the article.

An estimated one in 10 students in the United States is chronically absent from school, increasing the chances they will fall behind or drop out. Students who miss 18 or more days of school are considered “chronically absent,” regardless of whether the absences are excused, unexcused or for disciplinary reasons, says a new policy brief from Attendance Works, a national and state initiative founded in 2010 that is aimed at addressing chronic absence to improve student success.

Losing that instructional time correlates with poor academic achievement at all ages, the brief states. In the early grades, students who are not in class miss crucial language instruction and are less likely to reach reading proficiency by third grade. The likelihood of dropping out increases sharply if students are chronically absent in middle and high school.

Many states and districts are starting programs to combat the problem, Chang says. New York City launched a campaign in 2010 targeting 50 public schools with high levels of absenteeism, and provides mentors to students who miss a lot of school. Elementary school students with mentors last year saw their absenteeism rates fall by 25 percent. In the Providence Public School District, one in five students was chronically absent. Teachers called parents to investigate and learned that parents working the night shift were falling asleep before taking their children to school.

The school opened an early care and breakfast program so parents could drop off their children as early as 6:30 a.m. Local organizations received a federal grant to provide transportation for students who needed it as well. The rate of chronically absent students at the school dropped from 21 percent to 10 percent since implementing these programs.

Administrators can do the following to keep students in school, Chang says:

• Reward good and improved attendance with awards, extra recess time or other incentives.

• Engage the community, giving students, families and residents information about the importance of regular attendance, and connecting students to social services if needed.

• Use personalized, early outreach, talking to families as soon as the student is at risk.

• Create a team to monitor attendance and learn which students are chronically absent.

• Investigate any systemic barriers that may be preventing students from attending school.  

“Use data and insights from parents and teachers to find out why kids are missing school—the key to solving the problem is to learn why they aren’t there in the first place,” Chang says.

Who Is Affected: Kindergarten and 1st grade classes often have absenteeism rates as high as those in high school. Many of these absences are excused, but they still add up to lost time in the classroom.

• 1 in 10 kindergarten and 1st grade students are chronically absent. In some schools, it’s as high as 1 in 4.

• 2 in 10 low-income kids miss too much school.  They’re also more likely to suffer academically.

• 2.5 in 10 homeless kids are chronically absent.

• 4 in 10 transient kids miss too much school when families move.

As you can see, regular school attendance is a critical component of positive educational growth. Our school and community must work together to ensure that all students attend on a regular basis.  I am pleased with the schools efforts to improve attendance.  We need your help. Contact K.W. Maki at (406)293-8811 or sd4@libbyschools.org.

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