To deliver on the promise of closing achievement gaps and reducing dropout rates, DC Schools must first make a concerted effort to improve school chronic attendance. By any measure, the school district’s chronic attendance numbers are disappointing. 30 percent were truant, registering 10 or more unexcused absences in 2012-2013. More significantly, 40 percent were chronically absent, meaning they missed 10% or more of school (or 18 or more days in a 180 school year) in excused or unexcused absences.
These absences add up to academic trouble for children of all ages. Chronic absence in kindergarten and 1st grade can leave children unable to read proficiently by the end of third grade, especially children from low-income families. By 6th grade, chronic absenteeism becomes a leading indicator that a child will drop out of high school. By 9th grade, it’s a more powerful predictor of dropout rates than 8th grade test scores.
School districts across the country, including Baltimore, Chicago, Los Angeles, New York and Oakland, are among them the school districts focused on reducing chronic absence and improving student achievement. These districts are paying careful attention to data to target resources and identify common barriers to getting to school, building a positive culture of attendance and reaching out to students and families who need additional support. Increasingly, they use poor attendance as signal that a child or a family needs help, rather than as a signal to launch punitive action.
Our testimony focuses on four key recommendations:
1) Take a preventive approach to chronic absenteeism
2) Use sound data
3) Address chronic absenteeism much earlier
4) Examine evidence from other jurisdictions
Read full testimony here.