Module 1: Understanding Chronic Absenteeism


Welcome to Module 1 of a twelve part module
series entitled Attendance and Truancy Among Virginia Students, a collaboration between
the Virginia Department of Education and Attendance Works, a national and state initiative that
promotes better policy and practice around school attendance. My name is Joseph Wharff
and I am the school counseling specialist in the Office of Student Services at the Virginia
Department of Education. This session is entitled
Understanding Chronic Absenteeism. Starting in Pre-Kindergarten, students need to be in the classroom to benefit from what’s being taught there. Too many absences leave students struggling and subsequently failing classes
in middle and high school and dropping out. This session will define chronic absence and
begin the discussion on how absences affect student achievement throughout
the child’s academic life. Please note that there is a Facilitator/Participant
companion guide for each session which is located on the Virginia Department of Education
Web site. The facilitator/participant companion guide allows viewers, whether working individually
or in a group, to follow each session and answer reflection questions and create a working
document to address the critical issues related to attendance and truancy in schools, divisions,
and communities. Thank you for partnering with us. The first session is entitled Understanding Chronic Absenteeism. This learning module is designed to equip
Virginia school divisions with strategies, frameworks, and materials and resources to help you to increase attendance
and reduce chronic absence. This training lays the foundation for subsequent trainings
in your school or division. Module 1 will lay the ground work for understanding
what chronic absence is and how it affects student achievement through a child’s academic
life. Today’s agenda includes a learning goals
review, defining chronic absence, how chronic absence impacts achievement, and a reflection exercise. Educators will learn what chronic absence
is, and how it differs from other measures of attendance and how chronic absence affects
academic outcomes. Remember a time when you helped a student
or a school improve attendance. How did you know the student or school had high rates
of absenteeism? How were the absences affecting academic outcomes? Take some time to reflect
these questions. The companion manual for session 1 provides an area for notes. What is chronic absence? It means a student is missing 10% or more of
the school year for any reason. Unlike truancy, which counts
only for unexcused absences, chronic absence looks at excused absences and absences due
to suspensions. Chronic absence is a measure of lost instructional time for any reason. Unpacking attendance terms is critical because
the word attendance encompasses multiple measures – each of which mean something different.
If we aren’t clear about which attendance measure we are using, we can easily get confused
and think we are talking about the same thing when we are not. Here are three of the most
common measures. The first is ADA, or Average Daily Attendance, which refers to the percentage
of students who show up to school every day. It is often used for funding because it helps
us know for example – how many desks do I need in my school to accommodate the typical
number of students who show up every day. The second term is truancy – which typically
refers only to unexcused absences. But, keep in mind truancy is defined differently across
states. In Maryland for example truancy means missing 20% of the school year due to unexcused
absences. In California, it is a child who misses more than three days without a valid excuse
or is late to class by 30 minutes three times. Regardless of the definition, truancy is typically
used to begin identifying when a student may be breaking state compulsory education laws
and to trigger the beginning of legal intervention. Chronic absence is a relatively new term that
is based upon what research shows about the impact of lost instructional time. It is defined
as missing 10% or more of schools days and shows when a student has missed so much school
that he or she is academically at risk. Likewise, it is important to recognize the
limitation of monitoring average daily attendance or ADA. Let’s say, for example, you have
a school with 200 students. If 190 show up to school, that is 95% attendance. But let’s
say 10 students miss every day. How many absences is that over a 180-day school year? It’s 1,800. Does that mean all 200 students missed exactly 9 days? Probably not. Or did 90 students
miss 20 days? Probably not. The truth is, you don’t know how many chronically absent
kids you have until you look at your data. This slide shows variations in chronic absence
across elementary schools in Oakland, California, all of which had a 95% ADA rate. ADA is a
school rate that doesn’t tell you which students are missing 10% of their days and
are on a track to chronic absenteeism. Additionally it is important to note that the lower the
average daily attendance rate is, the more likely it is that the school has a significant
number of chronically absent students. Here is a comparison of chronic absence and
truancy, students who missed 10 days without an excuse nearing the end of a school year
in San Francisco. Take a look at kindergarten. Using a chronic absence measure, the district
identified twice as many students than if it only looked at the truancy data. This is
important for the purposes of intervening early and using the right attendance measure
as an early warning indicator. It is unlikely that a kindergartner is going to be absent
without someone knowing about it. Often those early excused absences, left uninterrupted,
become a repeated pattern and turn into unexcused absences when students are older. It’s easy not to notice when a student is
missing too much school. 10% of a school year is about 18 days of absence. That sounds like
a lot but when you break it down, that’s just two days a month. Most parents, and many
schools, don’t get too stressed out when a student misses two days of class in a month.
But when it happens month after month, it becomes a problem.
Many schools, and school division data systems, aren’t set up to track which students are
at-risk for chronic absence. This is something that we hope to change. Why does attendance matter for achievement?
Let’s look at research from around the country. Starting in Pre-K, student attendance equals
exposure to language-rich environments. This is especially important for students from
low-income families. Students need to be in the classroom to benefit from what’s being
taught there. Too many absences leave students struggling to read well by the end of third
grade, subsequently failing classes in middle and high school and dropping out in high school.
Attendance in high school even predicts college enrollment and persistence. More information
and more research can be found on the Attendance Works Web site at attendanceworks.org. Researchers in Chicago wanted to understand
the relationship between chronic absence and reading levels in 2nd grade. They analyzed
the attendance patterns of a group of students in 2nd grade and compared their attendance
history against the 2nd grade reading scores. They found that in prekindergarten, each year
of chronic absence resulted in increased need for reading intervention by the 2nd grade.
See the stair step pattern. The students represented in the left hand blue bar were never chronically
absent and had the highest reading fluency scores. The students in the next bar over,
were chronically absent just in kindergarten and you can already see a slight dip in academic
outcomes. Every year of absence correlates with lower achievement. By the end of 2nd
grade the students with persistent chronic absence are in need of serious reading intervention. Here is another example of research that demonstrates
the link between early absenteeism and lower levels of achievement and other negative outcomes
as the student advances. In this analysis, students who were chronically absent in kindergarten
showed lower levels of literacy in 1st grade. Chronic absence in kindergarten also predicted
lower levels of achievement through 5th grade. Students who were chronically absent were
also twice as likely to be retained and suspended. Children living in poverty are four times
more likely to be chronically absent in Kindergarten than their highest income peers. In addition,
children in poverty are more likely to face the kind of barriers – unreliable transportation,
unstable housing or homelessness, and lack of access to health care — that cause children
to be chronically absent year after year. This chart shows why we need to start tracking
chronic absence as early as possible. This Attendance Works analysis found that students
who were chronically absent in 1st grade were nearly six times more likely to be chronically
absent in 6th grade. Early chronic absence also predicted lower test scores and higher
suspension rates. If a child was chronically absent for three years in elementary school,
they were 18 times more likely to be chronically absent in sixth grade. There are kids who
fall off track in middle or high school even if they attended regularly in the early grades.
But the kids who are most risk to bring back we may have lost in kindergarten and first
grade and because we are looking at truancy we didn’t notice that they or their families
needed our help. We may have missed the opportunity to interrupt chronic absence before they fell
so far behind that they feel like school is not a place where they can succeed. By middle school, chronic absence is a surefire
indicator of drop out across students of all backgrounds. In Utah, researchers found that
just one year of chronic absence – anytime between 8th and 12th grade was associated
with 3 times higher levels of drop out. If a student was chronically absent for two years,
over half the students dropped out. While attendance matters for all students,
it is particularly critical for students who live in poverty. Fewer than 40% of the chronically
absent students who were eligible for free and reduced meals graduated from high school.
By contrast 67% of the more affluent students who were chronically absent ended up graduating. We will provide resources at the end of every
session for you to learn more. Before moving on with additional modules you may want to
look at these resources that are listed below. The next session in this series is entitled
Frameworks for Reducing Chronic Absence. Thank you for viewing the video.

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