Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Did You Realize How Important Attendance Is To Student Success?

Today, I'm writing to you about an issue that has been identified in this district every year since I have been here (2010) - Chronic Absenteeism.  In order for students to learn, they have to be regularly present.  Chronic Absenteeism is a serious concern that affects PK-12 schools and districts all across the country.  RSU 3 is no different.  Not only does repeated school absence (excused or not) cause students to lag behind in their learning pathways and reduce student success rates in their classes, but it increases the propensity to do poorly on assessments, whether they be of the classroom variety or of the national standardized testing variety.  Chronic absenteeism is also linked to increased failure rates for students, and if left unchecked, it is one of the key indicators of students to drop out of school altogether!  

Did you know??? . . .

*  In a nationally representative data set, chronic absence in kindergarten is associated with lower academic performance in first grade.  The impact is TWICE as much for students from low-income families.  (Chang and Romero 2008)

*  Children from low-income families who were also chronically absent in kindergarten had the lowest levels of achievement in fifth grade (Chang and Romero 2008)

*  Compared to children with average attendance, chronically absent students gained 14 percent fewer literacy skills in kindergarten, and 15 percent fewer literacy skills and 12 percent fewer mathematics skills in first grade, based on analysis of a nationally representative data set (Ready 2010)

*  Children from low-income families with good attendance also gained more literacy skills than peers from higher-income families during kindergarten and first grade (Ready 2010).

*  Students who were chronically absent in both pre-k and kindergarten often continued to be chronically absent in later years, and are more likely to be retained and have lower achievement (Connolly and Olson 2012).

*  A study of New York City data finds that “While relative improvements or declines in students’ test scores are predictive of students’ progress towards graduation, changes in attendance during the middle grades are also equally, if not more, predictive of the likelihood that students will be on-track in ninth grade to graduate from high school within four years” (Kieffer, Marinell, and Stephenson, 2011).

*  Analyses of data from Chicago show that course performance in the ninth grade was the strongest predictor of the likelihood that students would graduate, and the school attendance was by far the strongest predictor of course performance. The study found that even moderate amounts of absenteeism had strong impacts.  Students with high test scores who missed two or more weeks of school per semester were more likely to fail than students with low test scores who missed a week or less of school (Allensworth & Easton 2007).

*  Analyses of data from multiple states and school districts, many conducted in partnership between the Everyone Graduates Center at Johns Hopkins University and the National Governors Association, have consistently found chronic absenteeism to be among the strongest predictor of dropping out of high school, stronger even than suspensions, test scores, and being overage for grade, after having controlled for student demographics and backgrounds (Byrnes & Reyna 2012).

(Note, these data were taken from a Literature review conducted by John Hopkins University entitled:  "The Importance of Being In School:  A Report on Absenteeism In the Nation's Public Schools" published in May, 2012)

Now, you might have read all of this, and thought to yourself:  "Ya, but my child isn't chronically absent!  He/she might miss a day or two here and there - but that's not chronic."  Well, you might find it interesting that research defines chronic absenteeism as follows:

Chronic Absenteeism - missing 10 percent (10%) of a school year for any reason.

So what does that mean?  It means that in Maine we typically have 175 student days per school year.  Ten percent of 175 is 17.5 days.  This means that if your son or daughter misses 17.5 days of school for the entire year, regardless of the reason, they would then meet the definition of chronic absenteeism.

How about some more facts about the impacts of Chronic Absenteeism. . . 

*  In the early grades, students who are chronically absent have lower reading and math scores as well as weaker social-emotional skills that they need to persist in school.

*  Only 17 percent of students who were chronically absent in both kindergarten and 1st grade were reading proficiently by 3rd grade, compared with 64 percent of those with good attendance in the early years.

*  Chronic absenteeism in the middle school is the #1 indicator of a potential drop out student later in high school, above achievement, above race, and above socio-economic indicators.

(Note, these data were taken from an article in Education Week, published Oct. 7, 2014 entitled:  "Chronic Absenteeism Can Devastate K-12 Learning")

Clearly, missing school, for whatever reason, has consequences for children.  Now, you might be saying to yourself:   "But this isn't an issue at my school!"  And I wish I could agree. .. but I can't.  It is an issue in all schools within RSU 3.  At the conclusion of the 2013-14 our attendance data indicated that we had upwards of 25% of our school's populations who met the definition of "chronically absent" - that is 363 students out of 1450!

It is my hope that now that you have read this data you either have a refreshed and reenergized understanding of the importance of children attending school regularly, or your eyes are now open to this important topic in a way they may not have been already.  Together, we can solve this problem for our children here in RSU 3.  Please know that the school understands that this isn't all "on you" as parents!  Oh no, we have a part to play in this work moving forward as well.  Our part is to do what we can to make our schools places where students want to be.  This can be done by working to improve engagement within the regular classroom settings, by offering more and higher quality after school programs, by tackling the issues around creating positive school climates where all students feel safe, and by making sure we are giving students voice in decision making at all levels (just to name a few).  Please know that we are very aware of our part in this work and are endeavoring to do our best to increase student attendance.

So now, you may ask yourself:  "As a parent/guardian, how can I contribute to this work to improve attendance at our schools?"  Well, I thought you'd never ask! :)  Here are just a few ideas, but feel free to think creatively and formulate your own:

1.  Make getting students to school on time every day a top priority.  In a world of many priorities, this may sound easy - but we know it is not.

2.  Work with your child to set an attendance goal per month and if they work hard and meet it, celebrate it! 

3.  Set out a regular bedtime and morning routine. 

4.  Lay out clothes and pack backpacks the night before so that in the morning all they have to do is get up and go! 

5.  Avoid extended family trips when school is in session.

6.  Last, but definitely not least - Communicate with the school and greater community agencies about barriers that keep kids from getting to school.  Is an issue bullying?  Is an issue transportation?  Is an issue a lack of day care?  The more we know what the specific problems are, the more equipped we are to find solutions together.

I hope you have found this piece informative.  If you want to learn more about the impacts of Chronic Absenteeism on children, please google that topic . . . there is a lot of information out there to help us all form a better understand of how best to address the issues at play.  Together, this is a problem we CAN FIX.