California Attorney General Kamala Harris on Wednesday called for the California Department of Education to take over a job that her office has done for the past four years: release an annual data analysis on chronic student absenteeism.

The request came as part of a 10-point call for action included in her office’s latest attendance report, In School + On Track 2016Harris said that, beginning as early as preschool, chronic absenteeism has emerged as an indicator of whether students will be able to read at grade level in 3rd grade. That, in turn, is a predictor of graduating from high school, obtaining employment, paying taxes and staying out of prison.

The report found that in 2015-16 about 7 percent of K-5 students were chronically absent, which is defined as missing more than 10 percent of school days. Schools don’t need to wait until the end of a 180-day school year to identify students who have missed 18 days of school, the report said. A student who missed 4 out of 40 days of school, for instance, would be considered chronically absent. 

More than 1 in 10 kindergarten students in the sample were chronically absent in 2015-16. School attendance is not required under state law until a student is six years old. Chronic absence rates in elementary grades have remained “relatively stable” over the past few years, the report found.

Speaking at John Muir Elementary School in San Francisco, Harris, who is running for the U.S. Senate in November, touched on some of the report’s 10 action items, which seemed designed to ensure that her signature work on absenteeism and dropout rates would continue no matter what office she holds next year.

She also 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 a plan to deal with chronic absenteeism connected to asthma, transportation problems or out-of-school suspensions.

“The issue of chronic absenteeism is a big one, not only because it is a matter of unachieved potential, in terms of who students can be,” Harris said. “It’s a matter of whether taxpayers are getting a return on our investment, it is a matter of public safety, and it is a matter of workforce development. But it is also a matter of whether we are actually, as a system, being efficient and effective.”

Harris suggested that the foundation of effective change in student absenteeism is data that schools can use to understand and address the question of why students are missing a lot of school.

More data will start flowing this current school year, as the federal Every Student Succeeds Act requires school districts to report chronic absence rates to the California Department of Education. Harris called for analysis once that data is in the system. Her report stated, “Year after year, many of the district leaders who responded to our surveys indicate that the Attorney General’s report prompted them to make changes to their attendance policies and practices to ensure students do not fall through the cracks. We need public reporting on truancy and chronic absence rates in California.”

Harris’ office has published an attendance report every year since 2012-13.

The 10 actions called for in the attorney general’s report:

  1. Institutionalize an annual report by the California Department of Education, in consultation with the California Department of Justice, that presents and analyzes trends in truancy and chronic absence rates;
  2. Improve data tracking and monitoring at the local  and state level;
  3. Provide support to improve data collection and monitoring;
  4. Focus on attendance in early grades;
  5. Improve the LCAP template to standardize data reporting and goal setting for chronic absence by subgroup;
  6. Reduce student absences due to suspensions by expanding programs that focus on behavioral support rather than punitive approaches to student discipline;
  7. Change California law to require that a child’s parent or guardian is notified when the child is excessively absent for any reason;
  8. Communication with parents and guardians must be reframed to include more positive language and clear information on how much school the child is missing;
  9. Advocate for a common national definition for chronic absence;
  10. Use chronic absence data to target those who need more intensive interventions while providing attendance information to all.

SHARE ARTICLE

Comments (7)

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Comments Policy

The goal of the comments section on EdSource is to facilitate thoughtful conversation about content published on our website. Click here for EdSource's Comments Policy.

  1. Karen Taylor 2 months ago2 months ago

    Some of these recommendations are so out of touch with the realities of having children. Where are the recommendations to look at zero tolerance sick policies or work on better hygiene for kindergarteners? And where is just plain understanding? Kids get pink eye, fevers, stomach flu; these zero tolerance policies force working parents to bring their kids to school sick, who then in turn get others sick. Harris is totally clueless.

  2. Jenny Amador 9 months ago9 months ago

    Asthma and chronic illness are cited as contributing to chronic absenteeism yet increasing School Nurse presence in schools is not one of the suggested actions despite an abundance of research that demonstrates the impact School Nurses can have on reducing absenteeism.

  3. Wayne Bishop 9 months ago9 months ago

    If the state were serious, it would start by requiring ADA to be Average Daily Attendance instead of a phony number based on wild extrapolation from a single heavily-recruited day in October instead of class-by class every day of the year as was the case when I was teaching high school.

  4. Frances O'Neill Zimmerman 9 months ago9 months ago

    Obviously this is a job for the California Superintendent of Public Instruction. It is strange that the task fell to the Attorney General just as she was gearing up for the race for soon-to-be vacated United States Senate seat of Barbara Boxer. Could this have been an agreement that would help pad the resume of Kamala Harris and simultaneously remove an onerous bad-news task from the responsibilities of Superintendent Tom Torlakson, former teacher … Read More

    Obviously this is a job for the California Superintendent of Public Instruction.

    It is strange that the task fell to the Attorney General just as she was gearing up for the race for soon-to-be vacated United States Senate seat of Barbara Boxer. Could this have been an agreement that would help pad the resume of Kamala Harris and simultaneously remove an onerous bad-news task from the responsibilities of Superintendent Tom Torlakson, former teacher and legislator and present-day tool of the powerful the California Teachers Association union?

    By now CTA has triumphed in almost every conflict with education reformers and Harris has swept the established field of big-name endorsers, so the job of reporting student absenteeism can return where it belongs.

    Replies

    • Jane Meredith Adams 9 months ago9 months ago

      Hi Frances. Just to clarify the timing here — The attorney general began producing these reports in 2012-13 and has done so for four years. She also pursued attendance issues when she was the district attorney in San Francisco.

  5. ann 9 months ago9 months ago

    Has the state now made kindergarten mandatory?

    Replies

    • Jane Meredith Adams 9 months ago9 months ago

      Hi Ann. Thank you for this comment. No, kindergarten is not mandatory under state law. School attendance is not required until a student is six years old. I have updated the story to include this fact. Jane