Who is really skipping school and why does it matter?
In my continuing series on Chronic Absenteeism, in order to get an understanding of the faces not attending school during the day, it is necessary to elaborate on certain statistics. The numbers are important to understand the scope of the issue, specifically the role of low socioeconomic status and ethnicity. A study published by Johns Hopkins University (2013) analyzed surveys completed by New York City students. Over the course of a three year study, 60,000 participants were included. Many participants showed above average rates of chronic absenteeism. In particular, the highest rates of chronic absenteeism were in African American, Latino, and high‐poverty students. The study goes on to explain:
“44% of African American, 47% of Latino, and 44% of high‐poverty/low‐ income students (free and reduced‐price lunch eligible) are chronically absent and only about a third [of all participants] are solid attenders. Latinos have both the highest rate of chronic absenteeism and the lowest rate of solid attenders.”
The more concerning trend, is that chronic absenteeism rates in New York are very high among 2011-2012 students in Pre‐K. The trend gradually declines in elementary school, with fifth grade showing the lowest rate of absenteeism. The overall average of those chronically absent citywide in elementary school was 18%, with 4% severely chronically absent. However, from sixth grade to high school, chronic absenteeism rates rose steadily and plateaued in high school to about 35%. Even at the lowest rate, this still reports about one in four students were chronically absent.
On Connecticut’s State Department of Education website, (you can use this link to download the Excel sheet) the numbers from the 2013-2014 academic school year mirrors the ethnicities most effected in the results of the Johns Hopkins Study. African American and Latino students had the highest rates of absenteeism across districts. There is a difference however, between New York and Connecticut with the pattern of chronic absenteeism. The elementary school levels (K-3) with the higher rates of chronic absenteeism in the Greater Danbury region were in New Fairfield (3.5%) and New Milford (4.9%). Meanwhile, Danbury had the highest rates of chronic absenteeism (5.9%). The statistics flipped in high school where chronic absenteeism in New Fairfield was the highest (17.9%), New Milford was second, (15.6%), and Danbury was the lowest (6.9%).
There are various factors that may contribute to why these numbers differ widely from district to district. One example is how some districts in the area have a policy that determines that three tardies counts as one absence. Having this type of policy may contribute to the higher rates of chronic absenteeism because there is not an equal standard of counting absences across districts. Other factors that may contribute to the way districts handle the data includes: excused absences (medical), unexcused absences (vacations), barriers for child care (due to work/transportation), and the child’s motivation to go to school. The underlining point is that if different methodologies of counting absences exist, it is important that the numbers be adjusted to an equal standard to reflect each district accurately. Additionally, it is also important that issues based on culture, socioeconomic stature, and race be identified to bring the conversation to the people that need to be in the conversation the most; parents. While the reasons may vary across districts, and policies may differ, parents are the key to changing the pattern as early as elementary school before it is too late.
If you have insights into your own reasons or factors why chronic absenteeism persists, I would love to hear from you. Please feel free to email me at my contact information listed in the header above or leave a comment below.