Every day, every student matters

Phil Ortega, Attendance and Safe Schools Coordinator
Eagle Point School District

Posted Aug. 5, 2016

Phil Ortega, an Attendance and Safe Schools coordinator with the Eagle Point School District, says encouraging attendance from Day 1 helps boost graduation rates. Mail Tribune file photo

Seven thousand students dropped out of Oregon schools.

The research couldn’t be more compelling. A student’s attendance record is second only to the grade point average as the best indicator of later academic performance, according to a 2014 study from the University of Chicago. Among the youngest learners, attendance is especially critical: Only about 17 percent of students who were chronically absent as kindergartners and first-graders scored "proficient" in reading when they reached the third grade, according to a 2013 UCLA study. ("Chronically absent" is defined as missing 10 percent or more of the school year.) The fact is that too many of our students are missing too much school.

According to the Oregon Department of Education, 7,055 students dropped out in the 2013-14 school year. This number is shocking! The average school district has a school calendar of 176 school days. Students are out of school 189 days a year on average in Oregon. Forty students per day drop out! We have limited days of opportunity to impact our students and so with little precious time, we as a community need all stakeholders informed and involved in the solution.

As a community, we must work together to encourage high school graduation. The best way to support and gain momentum in increasing our graduation rates is to encourage the daily habit of attendance. Students must attend so that they can optimize their learning opportunity and earn credits.

Three districts in Jackson County have contracted the services of Attention2Attendance (A2A) to provide an attendance management system to inform parents and guardians on regular intervals about attendance. Eagle Point, Rogue River and Medford School Districts have all committed to lowering their chronic rates of absenteeism. The Eagle Point School District has implemented strategies for the past three years and has seen a reduction of the chronic absence rate to 5 percent. This reduction has huge gains on classroom instruction and paves the road to increasing graduation rates.

We should be aware and understand that our teachers, administrators and all school district staff are willing and able to support the learning of all students. The best way to support them is to encourage family involvement in their children's learning and provide regular and timely information so that we can avoid a loss of learning time.

As an educator, I feel compelled to serve my community and do my part to support all children, so I offer this advice.

It is important to note that we all should be concerned anytime a student misses too much school — even when excused. Illness and family obligations are a fact of life, but sometimes the choices that adults make can have a dramatic impact on their children. This is especially true for early learners.

We do understand that sometimes missing school is unavoidable, but we also want to help remove any obstacles that might present barriers to our families. All school districts have resources that can be employed if needed. Communication is key between families and school staff.

So I’ll close with this, students cannot learn if they aren’t in class and, in fact, they struggle and fall further behind with each class missed. Just showing up each day is the first step to learning and creating habits that will foster success long after high school graduation.

While attendance alone cannot solve all of our educational challenges, it is a major factor in encouraging more children to thrive academically in the early grades and move on to successfully graduate from high school. The regular-attendance habits of today can become tomorrow’s productive work ethic.

Please join us in helping all our students succeed by making sure all school-age youth are in school and in class every day — ready to learn.

Phil Ortega is an Attendance and Safe Schools coordinator with the Eagle Point School District.