Study: 'Chronically Absent' Students Skew Attendance Data: News of the Day

According to a new study released yesterday, up to 15 percent of American students are chronically absent from school, missing at least one day in every 10. Chronic absenteeism can cause serious long-term harm, having been linked to poor academic performance and high dropout rates. While there are a multitude of school reform efforts, they're not likely to achieve results if the kids don't come to school.  

Unfortunately, the authors of the study suggest that there is an issue with how we view and measure attendance. From the New York Times:

[Researchers from Johns Hopkins University] argue that policy makers tend to look at absenteeism in the wrong way, requiring districts and states to measure average daily attendance rates, but — with the exception of a few states — not focusing on the relatively small number of students who account for most absences. They found that some schools report an average of more than 90 percent daily attendance, masking the fact that 40 percent of their students are chronically missing.

“We don’t see the problem clearly because, in most places, we don’t measure it, and average daily attendance really skews the way we view this,” said one of the authors, Robert Balfanz, a research professor at the university’s School of Education.

This points to the importance of rich data use in school reform. With better tools for data collection and analysis of leading indicators, school districts and administrators can develop effective strategies for improving attendance. For example:

New York City, where 20 percent of public school students are chronically absent, has built one of the strongest campaigns against the problem. Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg set up a task force to address it, with officials from several agencies —from social services to law enforcement — that had long worked with the schools but had not shared information with each other.

“As early as sixth grade, we could have known that kids were on the train to drop out, and too often our efforts in the past began when it was too late,” said John Feinblatt, senior policy adviser to the mayor and head of the task force.

Some of the resulting projects include automated wake-up calls from athletes and other celebrities to about 30,000 at-risk students, urging them to go to school.

In efforts to reauthorize the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA), Democrats introduced legislation that focused on more and better date use in school improvement. Unfortunately, Education Committee Republicans moved forward two highly partisan draft pieces of legislation in place of a whole-scale rewrite of ESEA that do not live up to our nation’s commitment to all of our children. This move means that the rewrite of the law won’t happen this year and millions of schoolchildren will have to remain under a broken system.

Click here for more information on the reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act