Results Count: Assessing Chronic Absenteeism

Do you ever wish you had a crystal ball so you could see the future, and then act to change it before something bad happens?

Indicators, while not as lovely as a crystal ball, can help us see at a systems level what different futures might look like for our students. Chronic absenteeism is one such indicator that can give us insight about who needs interventions during middle school in order to stay on track to graduate from high school.

A student who is chronically absent is one who is absent for more than 10% of days enrolled. Unlike truancy, chronic absenteeism can be flagged in the first weeks or months of the schools. Students who are absent two days a month are at risk of being chronically absent.

Why does it matter? Studies have found that 60% of students who do not finish high school could be identified in middle school by looking at a combination of chronic absenteeism and poor academic performance. By intervening in middle school, we have a chance of turning this trend around.

At the April 2019 STEPS annual meeting we took a closer look at this issue. We found that Alaska Native and mixed-race students had higher rates of chronic absenteeism than their peers and low-income students had even higher rates of chronic absenteeism. This data does not mean that all low-income or Alaska Native/mixed race kids are at risk of not graduating, but it does highlight that we need to do some deep thinking about how our school policies, support systems, and other structures can be adjusted so that all students have an opportunity to succeed.

Over the next few months, a team in Juneau will be digging into the data to understand who these kids are, why they are absent, and how we can help keep them in school. Gone are the days of the truancy officer – most schools don’t have the budget for this position, and, in many circles, it is no longer considered a best practice. Instead, we must think deeply about what the barriers are for these kids and how a team of school, family, and community partners can help remove barriers and provide additional support to keep them in school.

In Baltimore, for example, a team of folks realized that kids were being suspended for violating the school uniform policy. Everyone agreed that it was more important to have kids in school than for their socks to match, so the school clarified the policy (no more suspensions for anything related to school uniforms) and provided a washer and dryer in the building for families who struggled to purchase multiple uniforms or get to the laundromat regularly.

Here in Juneau, Tlingit and Haida’s Navigators program is one resource that is working to provide wrap-around support for students and their families. And from Yakutat to Hydaburg, school staff, tribes, and community partners are working to make schools safe places that are connected to the community and their culture.

Over the next four years, STEPS Alaska will be keeping a close eye on the chronic absenteeism indicator. Our goal is to bring those rates down, especially for our most vulnerable students.

If you are interested in reading more about chronic absenteeism Attendance Works has some excellent resources further documenting the significance of this indicator, and if you’re interested in digging into this a bit more with your school or community, please reach out to Pat Sidmore, psidmore@nullaasb.org or Emily Ferry, eferry@nullaasb.org.

**Composed by Emily Ferry, STEPS Coordinator