How chronic absenteeism affects school children’s performance
The Orange County Register
Published March 10, 2017
By Stephen Wall, Staff Writer
Instructor Eli Ortiz leads mothers and their children in a song which included counting during the ABC Music and Me program at Parent and Early Child Development Center in Jurupa Valley. The Jurupa Unified School District is encouraging parents to get more involved in their kids' learning, which is part of the state's new accountability report card. (Stan Lim, The Press-Enterprise/SCNG)
The Orange County Register Staff Photographer
It seems simple: The more kids are in school, the better they do academically. But educators across the state are having a hard time getting some students to class.
An estimated 210,000 kindergarten through fifth grade students in California missed 10 percent of the 2015-16 school year. These chronically absent students make up 7 percent of the elementary students in the state, according to a report last year from former Attorney General Kamala Harris, now a U.S. senator.
Chronic absence data is now part of the state’s color-coded accountability system. School districts send data to the California Department of Education on excused and unexcused absences as well as out-of-school suspensions as required by the federal Every Student Succeeds Act.
In California, 10 percent of the school year equals about 18 days of missed school, or two days a month based upon the typical 180-day school year.
In addition, 27 percent of elementary students were truant in 2015-16 — meaning they were absent or tardy by more than 30 minutes without a valid excuse at least three times in a school year. That’s a 13-percent increase since 2012-13, according to Harris’ report.
The situation is worse for black students, whose chronic absence rate is twice as high as other students. Almost a quarter of black homeless students miss at least 10 percent of the school year.
Schools lose state funding when students are absent. In addition, kids who miss a lot of school fall behind, do poorly on tests, and are at a higher risk of dropping out and getting involved in the criminal justice system. In 2013, it was calculated that truancy alone cost Orange County schools $87 million a year.
Educators enlist the help of law enforcement when parent letters, phone calls and home visits don’t work.
For example, prosecutors in Riverside County District Attorney Mike Hestrin’s office may issue misdemeanor citations to parents who don’t comply after repeated warnings.
Parents needed to be reminded that school attendance is mandatory. Taking an extra week off over the winter holidays isn’t acceptable, educators say.