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Credit: Jane Meredith Adams/EdSource Today

Elementary school absenteeism remains “persistently high” in California, but more schools are tracking absences and working to address the root problems that keep students out of classrooms, California Attorney General Kamala Harris said Wednesday as she released new statewide attendance data.

Attendance reflects student health – physical, emotional and behavioral – and for several years, Harris has declared chronic absenteeism an urgent problem affecting student achievement, dropout rates and crime. On Wednesday, she revived her plea for a statewide attendance database that would help districts identify students, particularly those who move from one district to another, who are in need of intervention to resolve health issues, transportation problems and school suspensions that can cause chronic absenteeism.

“Every year, on average, school districts leave about $1 billion on the table. That’s billion with a b,” said Kamala Harris, California attorney general.

“I’ve been talking to Gov. Jerry Brown about that,” Harris said. Last year, Brown vetoed an attendance bill sponsored by Harris that would have helped to create such a database. California remains one of only a handful of states that does not track student attendance in its statewide longitudinal student information system, Harris said.

Chronic absence is defined as missing 10 percent or more of the school year for any reason, excused or unexcused. More than 8 percent of K-5 students in California – 230,000 students – missed 18 or more days of school in the 2014-15 school year, making them chronically absent, according to Harris’ report, In School + On Track 2015. About 31,000 of those students are estimated to have missed more than 36 days of school, or 20 percent of the 2014-15 school year, with or without an excuse.

Aside from the academic harm that absent students experience, California school districts lose about $1 billion a year in state funds they would have collected if average daily attendance figures, which are used to calculate funding, were improved, Harris said.

“Every year, on average, school districts leave about $1 billion on the table. That’s billion with a b,” Harris said. “I will tell you what that money can buy: 53,000 more teachers, 2 billion school lunches, 63,000 school nurses, 300 million books. That money can buy a lot of help, but we need to have those kids in school every day.”

Rates of truancy, which is defined as being absent or tardy by more than 30 minutes without a valid excuse on three occasions in a school year, were 1 in 5 elementary school students. The elementary school student truancy rate increased slightly in the state, from 21.3 percent in 2012-13 to 23.2 percent in 2013-14, according to the California Department of Education. New data from a different source used by Harris found that the elementary student truancy rate rose slightly again, to 23.8 percent for the 2014-15 school year. But the report suggests that increased rate may be an indication of better data reporting by districts, rather than an increase in the number of unexcused absences in the state.

 

Chronically absent or truant students are less likely to be able to read at grade level at 3rd grade – a crucial milestone that, if achieved, increases the likelihood that students will graduate from high school. At the same time, chronic absence correlates with higher rates of dropping out of high school and higher incarceration rates.

Harris singled out the work of the Corona-Norco Unified School District as an example of how some districts are improving their infrastructure for tracking and monitoring attendance problems. In 2013-14, Corona-Norco Unified began to use a free, Excel-based tool developed by the nonprofit group Attendance Works to track attendance data by gender, grade, race/ethnicity and other filters. As a result, school principals, secretaries and attendance clerks can run attendance reports in real time.


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  1. Jane Meredith Adams 1 year ago1 year ago

    In response to a reader who sent an email to EdSource. In case you are wondering about the new data source used by the Attorney General for some of the calculations, it is Eagle Software and their Aeries client elementary school districts, as mentioned in the report.
    Jane

  2. Gary Ravani 1 year ago1 year ago

    Changes in funding laws about ten or 15 years ago made almost all student absences, for whatever reason "Unexcused" in the eyes of the state. This was driven by a Republican governor and "Education Secretary" at the time, always looking for a way to punish schools and save dollars. Never mind that parents would excuse their children for illness or some other legitimate reason. It would behoove the policy makers involved here to keep in mind … Read More

    Changes in funding laws about ten or 15 years ago made almost all student absences, for whatever reason “Unexcused” in the eyes of the state. This was driven by a Republican governor and “Education Secretary” at the time, always looking for a way to punish schools and save dollars. Never mind that parents would excuse their children for illness or some other legitimate reason.

    It would behoove the policy makers involved here to keep in mind that the reality of unexcused absences, or actual truancy, are seen at the school, but are actually only symptoms of the problems. The real problems are in the homes and communities impact by poverty and disruptions in state and federal programs to provide supports for families and students.

    At various times over decades school programs have been implemented by districts to help deal with this issue. Today is not the first time that the problems have been recognized. Administrators, counselors, social workers, etc., have been assigned as “school attendance officers,” in a kind of caseworker function, to follow up on students with repetitive absence problems and these positions are typically first on the chopping block when the inevitable CA cycle of budget cuts come around because of the state’s chronic inability to deal with its weak revenue stream and decades long underfunding of schools.

    Replies

    • navigio 1 year ago1 year ago

      I think what you meant to say is the law was changed to no longer fund even excused absences. So at this point, excused or unexcused, neither is funded.

    • el 1 year ago1 year ago

      The one thing I would add is that schools are a part of their attendance statistics. They do have control over a climate that makes school a happy and welcoming place instead of a stressful and difficult place to be. They also make choices about transportation policies that can be a factor. There is a benefit in having the school incentivized to have kids in school regardless of reason. On the other hand, there are certainly … Read More

      The one thing I would add is that schools are a part of their attendance statistics. They do have control over a climate that makes school a happy and welcoming place instead of a stressful and difficult place to be. They also make choices about transportation policies that can be a factor. There is a benefit in having the school incentivized to have kids in school regardless of reason.

      On the other hand, there are certainly factors outside school control that are significant also. And, some of the ways that schools react are not so beneficial. If the funding had been adjusted up to acknowledge the reality that some kids will be absent for good or useful reasons, that would have made more sense.

      The high school I attended was an awful place to be most of the time, and they deserved to be dinged for every absence I had.

  3. Jim Mordecai 1 year ago1 year ago

    Rather than fund for attendance, the State should require funding based on school's enrollment and fund for enrollment not attendance. The current funding for attendance system rewards those subsets of the enrollment that have stable family situation unmarked by untreated medical issues of school child and their adults (untreated medical conditions of adults impact a students attendance). The funding for education based on attendance is differentiated by economic subgroups making California's attendance law inequitable. … Read More

    Rather than fund for attendance, the State should require funding based on school’s enrollment and fund for enrollment not attendance.

    The current funding for attendance system rewards those subsets of the enrollment that have stable family situation unmarked by untreated medical issues of school child and their adults (untreated medical conditions of adults impact a students attendance). The funding for education based on attendance is differentiated by economic subgroups making California’s attendance law inequitable. The attendance law does not provide equitable funding to schools with students from families of low income. Because California attendance law is based on attendance and not enrollment, schools with large numbers from families of low income receive less State funding than school with middle and upper class families.

  4. jack 1 year ago1 year ago

    The data is very helpful. Along with student attendance data, it would be helpful to collect data related to teacher attendance and look at the correlation. There is evidence from national studies to support that teacher attendance has a direct impact upon level of student attendance. Student attendance is influenced by several conditions, some internal to the school, some not.

  5. navigio 1 year ago1 year ago

    Sorry, but the information provided here is wrong. That money 'raised' by reducing absenteeism could buy a lot of things, but it wouldn't buy teachers. Teaching ratios are a function of enrollment, not ADA, so reducing absenteeism wont increase teacher count. Furthermore, 53,000 teachers would cost almost $4B per year in salary alone (going by state average), not including benefits. So independent of the first issue, something about the math seems to be off. Anyway, the … Read More

    Sorry, but the information provided here is wrong.
    That money ‘raised’ by reducing absenteeism could buy a lot of things, but it wouldn’t buy teachers.
    Teaching ratios are a function of enrollment, not ADA, so reducing absenteeism wont increase teacher count.
    Furthermore, 53,000 teachers would cost almost $4B per year in salary alone (going by state average), not including benefits. So independent of the first issue, something about the math seems to be off.
    Anyway, the state likely banks on absenteeism. If districts were able to reduce it in a way that were to create a significant change in revenue, the state would likely counter by reducing its commitment. As an analogy, imagine if all the private schools closed tomorrow. That would increase enrollment by over 10%. It’s quite unlikely the state would be able to match that in funding.

    Replies

    • Kim 1 year ago1 year ago

      A question that maybe the article's author can address: Will there actually be more funding given to education in CA if attendance improves (the $1 billion discussed)? Or will the amount of overall funding stay the same - which would lead to a lower per pupil funding amount if attendance improved? Then, if all districts improved their attendance rates more or less equally, they would get roughly the same amount of funding as they currently … Read More

      A question that maybe the article’s author can address:

      Will there actually be more funding given to education in CA if attendance improves (the $1 billion discussed)? Or will the amount of overall funding stay the same – which would lead to a lower per pupil funding amount if attendance improved? Then, if all districts improved their attendance rates more or less equally, they would get roughly the same amount of funding as they currently do. Or improvement was unequal, districts with improved attendance would get a bigger piece of the (same sized) pie and other districts would get less.

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