Does your student fall into the category of “chronic absenteeism”? According to the U.S. Department of Education’s office of Civil Rights, if a student misses more than 15 days of school they are considered to be chronically absent.
The U.S. Department of Education’s office of Civil Rights found that in June of 2016, six million public school students missed at least three weeks of school. This accounted for 20% of all high school students, 20% of black and Hispanic students and 25% of students with disabilities.
“We looked at all of [Pine Bush district] schools and they had between 10% to 15% of their students chronically absent,” said Donna Geidel, Assistant Superintendent for Instruction, who gave the updated Pine Bush school district attendance report during last week’s board of education meeting.
The earlier a student exhibits signs of chronic absenteeism, the quicker the drastic effects begin to take a toll on their academic performance. Children who are chronically absent in Pre-K through first grade are much less likely to read on grade level by third grade and chronically absent kindergarteners are more likely to be retained in later grades.
Students who cannot read at grade level by third grade are four times more likely to drop out of high school. By sixth grade, absenteeism is an early warning indicator that influences whether students will graduate from high school.
In Pine Bush High School, 250 students are missing more than 18 days of the school year. By high school, chronic absenteeism is a greater predictor of graduation than eighth grade scores.
The issue of chronic absenteeism is complex. First, you must distinguish between an excused absence and an unexcused absence. Schools know children have valid reasons to be absent and parents must inform the school via notes, email or phone calls when their child is absent. Examples of excused absences include: child illness or injury, family emergency, death of a family member, doctor or dental appointments that cannot be scheduled before or after school hours and religious observance.
An unexcused absence is when children miss school for reasons not accepted by the school. Some of those reasons might include forces outside of school, such as family trips or vacations, poor transportation, or caring for siblings or elders or sleeping too late. Students might also feel disengaged from school, feeling that no one will notice if they do not attend, or tend to avoid being bullied or teased by skipping school.
How does the issue of chronic absenteeism get resolved? According to Geidel, there are a few ways to increase attendance in schools.
Schools can start by recognizing improved attendance by rewards and contests. Engaging students and parents, monitoring data to identify barriers and providing personalized early outreach can all help with increasing attendance rates.
For the Pine Bush school district, steps are being taken to address chronic absenteeism.
The school district will look at attendance data from the last three years and evaluate a plan. Flyers will be sent home to middle school parents and handed to elementary parents at parent/teacher conferences titled, “Help Your Child Succeed in School.” Letters will also be sent home to parents of students who have missed 10%, or six days, in the first trimester/quarter of the school year, 12 days for the second trimester/quarter and 18 days at the end of the year.
The Pine Bush school district is currently modifying their plans to address chronic absenteeism for the 2018-2019 school year.
By Jaspreet Gill