4 ways leaders are hoping to curb chronic absenteeism this year

Often times we hear superintendents say, "If you're not in your seat, you're not learning." But what are leaders doing to address the issue?

Many school districts are nearing the halfway mark of the first semester, yet one issue remains: Students are still missing school at alarming rates. Exacerbated by the pandemic, chronic absenteeism poses several negative consequences for students, namely the inevitable significant learning gaps they face throughout the academic year. Often times we hear superintendents say, “If you’re not in your seat, you’re not learning.” And that’s the simple truth. But what are leaders doing to address the issue?

A statewide task force

Throughout the country, school districts are launching initiatives to understand where their students have gone and why they’re missing school, including the entire state of Virginia.

Gov. Glenn Youngkin has announced the creation of the Chronic Absenteeism Task Force as part of his “ALL IN VA” plan to combat academic learning loss. The initiative comes in response to the state’s nearly doubled chronic absenteeism rates since the pandemic. The task force will develop resources and action plans for districts to address absenteeism in their schools.

“The decision to shutter schools for extended periods during the pandemic continues to have lasting, detrimental effects on our children,” Youngkin said in a statement. “To prevent losing an entire generation of our children, Virginia is leading the way to accelerate our students’ learning loss recovery through intensive tutoring and combatting chronic absenteeism.”

Knock, knock

Kalamazoo Public Schools in Michigan is set to host what they call a “Knock and Talk” event this week in an effort to target students with more than 10 absences.

The initiative is similar to Los Angeles Unified’s Alberto Carvalho’s iAttend LAUSD campaign where officials visit the homes of students with low attendance to better understand why they’re not coming to school.

“We’re doing to go out and knock on every student’s door,” said Superintendent Darrin Slade, according to MLive.

The district has reported a 27% chronic absenteeism rate, meaning more than one-fourth of students have missed at least 10% of school. And the problem persists throughout the entire state, according to KPS, which said Michigan has the fourth-highest chronic absenteeism rate in the country, according to MLive.

Leveraging technology for families

Alexandria City Public Schools in Virginia is also seeing the effects of the pandemic play out in its classrooms. Chronic absenteeism in the state is defined as any student who has missed more than 18 days of school. Between 2019 and 2021, the number of absences has doubled from 8% to 16%, according to NBC4 Washington.

In response, ACPS has launched an app called Parent Square to track absenteeism rates for students in grades 6-12 in real time. It automatically logs reports at the end of the first period, at lunchtime and after school. Email and text updates are then sent to the student’s parents.

Recommendations for leaders

These new initiatives are but a mere sample of the innovative tactics superintendents and administrators are implementing to help curb absenteeism in their schools. However, recent research offers some more widespread recommendations leaders may want to consider before taking a more specialized approach in their districts.

A recent study from PACE (Policy Analysis for California Education), an independent, non-partisan research center, explores the effects of chronic absenteeism throughout the state of California. However, the researchers offer some recommendations for action that leaders in any state can take advantage of.

Here’s what they advise for district leaders wanting to reduce absenteeism in their own schools:

  • Leverage data to identify disparities and bright spots.
  • Invest in best practices and data systems that monitor driving factors for both excused and unexcused absences.
  • Review and update local and state policies related to unexcused absences.
  • Ask how attendance policies and practices can be better communicated to students and families.
  • Invest in professional development to improve attendance and truancy practices.
Micah Ward
Micah Wardhttps://districtadministration.com
Micah Ward is a District Administration staff writer. He recently earned his master’s degree in Journalism at the University of Alabama. He spent his time during graduate school working on his master’s thesis. He’s also a self-taught guitarist who loves playing folk-style music.

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