By LEE ROMNEY and DANIEL J. WILLIS, EdSource
California education officials have released school-level data that shows that last year more than 1 in 10 students were chronically absent, defined as missing at least 10 percent of school days for any reason.
The data, which the state released for the first time, reveals that 1 in 4 foster children was chronically absent from California schools last year, as were about 1 in 5 homeless, Native American and African-American students.
Chronic absenteeism among California’s students peaked in high school, at 15.4 percent. But the data showed kindergartners close behind, with 14 percent missing at least 10 percent of school days. The statewide average for all students was 10.8 percent.
By tracking and releasing the data, California joins nearly all states nationwide in dramatically shifting its approach to school absence away from punishing truancy, or unexcused absences, toward identifying the reasons for all absences and offering support. California in 2013, as part of the newly enacted Local Control Funding Formula, required school districts to track and address chronic absenteeism in their accountability plans. But the state only began collecting the data last year. It will eventually be added to the department’s new accountability dashboard so the public — including parents, teachers and school board members — can track progress.
Focusing on chronic absenteeism “is less judgmental because now you’re looking at absence for any reason,” said David Kopperud, chair of the state Student Attendance Review Board. “You have kids with health problems and mental health problems, you have young children who are missing school for no fault at their own.”
Schools with high poverty levels tend to have higher rates of chronic absenteeism, he added, and “one of the best ways we can address poverty is by figuring out what can we do to help these students get to school despite lack of transportation, health issues, trauma and anxiety.”
Research has shown that missing at least 10 percent of the school year, particularly in early grades, reduces the likelihood that students will read proficiently by 3rd grade, predicts poor academic performance in middle school and increases the likelihood that students will drop out in high school. Students living in poverty, students of color and students with disabilities have disproportionately higher rates of chronic absenteeism.
The data on chronic…