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1 Chronic Early Absence: What It Matters? What Can We Do? PTA Legislative Conference, March 11, 2009 Hedy Chang Consultant, Annie E. Casey Foundation Email:

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Presentation on theme: "1 Chronic Early Absence: What It Matters? What Can We Do? PTA Legislative Conference, March 11, 2009 Hedy Chang Consultant, Annie E. Casey Foundation Email:"— Presentation transcript:

1 1 Chronic Early Absence: What It Matters? What Can We Do? PTA Legislative Conference, March 11, 2009 Hedy Chang Consultant, Annie E. Casey Foundation Email:

2 2 Presentation  National Research Findings  Insights from Baltimore, MD  Federal Policy Implications

3 3 What Is Chronic Absence? Chronic absence refers to children missing extended periods of school over the course of an entire school year. Unlike truancy which refers only to unexcused absences, chronic absence is calculated by monitoring both excused and unexcused absences. The National Center for Children in Poverty defines chronic absence as missing 10% or more of the school year (nearly a month of school) because that level of absence was associated with declining academic performance. No common definition exists across school districts.

4 4 How Did We Study It?  An analysis of national Early Childhood Longitudinal Study data to assess impact, prevalence and risk factors for chronic early absence by the National Center for Children in Poverty. (See  An examination of early absenteeism patterns in 9, mostly urban, localities by grade and for particular populations (ELL, gender, low-income and special education)  A review of relevant literature  Interviews with practitioners and researchers on promising programs and practices

5 5 5 Why Does It Matter ?  Chronic absence in Kindergarten is associated with lower academic performance in 1 st grade among all children, and most significantly for reading proficiency among Latino youngsters. Among poor children, chronic absence in kindergarten predicts the lowest levels of educational achievement at the end of fifth grade.  Chronic early absence can reach high levels locally – as high as 25% district wide or half of all the children in a particular elementary school.  The educational experience of regularly attending children can be adversely affected when teachers must divert their attention to meet the needs of chronically absent children when they return to school.  Chronic early absence could be a critical tool for identifying troubled children, families or educational institutions early on before problems are more difficult to ameliorate.

6 6 Why is It Often Overlooked?  Schools typically only track data on attendance and truancy (unexcused absence). (Under NCLB, states currently have the option to include attendance in Adequate Yearly Progress for elementary and middle schools. Attendance measures vary significantly across the 37 states that adopted this option. Most monitor average attendance rates for schools vs. individual student attendance. NCLB does not begin until 3 rd grade.)  Chronic absence is easily hidden by typically high elementary school attendance rates.  School data systems may underestimate prevalence of chronic absence because they do not electronically track absences for individual children.

7 7 7 What Contributes to Chronic Early Absence ?  When chronic early absence occurs, consider the extent to which schools, families and communities each might play a contributing role.  A high level of chronic absence suggests the existence of systemic issues affecting large numbers of students and families.

8 8 SCHOOL RELATED FACTORS Is chronic early absence an indication that schools...  do not communicate the importance of attendance especially to families who speak languages other than English?  do not monitor and reach out to families when children miss extended periods of time?  are not effectively engaging parents in their children’s education, including drawing upon family assets and cultural resources?  are not providing a high quality, engaging and safe educational experience?

9 9 FAMILY RELATED FACTORS Is chronic early absence an indication that families...  are unaware of the adverse impact of chronic early absence and have not yet developed routines that promote consistent school attendance?  are poor and lack the resources (transportation, food, clothing, social supports, etc) to ensure their children regularly attend school?  are highly mobile?  have difficulty addressing and managing illness, especially chronic disease?

10 10 FAMILY RELATED FACTORS Is chronic early absence an indication that families...  have a history of negative experiences with education and may not feel welcome in schools?  face multiple risks (e.g. living in poverty, teen motherhood, single motherhood, low maternal education, welfare, unemployment, food insecurity, poor maternal health and multiple siblings)?  are dealing with serious problems (e.g. mental illness, homelessness, child or domestic abuse, incarceration of a parent, etc.) that make school attendance difficult because family life has been disrupted and public agencies and schools lack a coordinated response?

11 11 COMMUNITY RELATED FACTORS Is chronic early absence an indication that communities...  do not provide adequate support to help young children and families make a positive transition into elementary school?  are severely distressed and lack formal or informal supports to promote the positive development of children including regular school attendance?  experience high levels of violence that adversely affect family functioning and getting children to school safely?

12 12 Characteristics of Effective Responses  Address the factors contributing to chronic early absence in their community  Take comprehensive approaches involving students, families and community agencies.  Maintain a sustained focus on attendance over time.  Begin early when children are entering school or before.  Combine universal and targeted strategies.  Offer positive supports instead of (or before) punitive responses.

13 13 A Comprehensive Response (Possible Strategies) Engage families of all backgrounds in their children’s education Offer incentives for attendance to all children Early outreach to families with poor attendance, and as appropriate, case management to address social, medical, economic and academic needs Coordinated public agency and, if needed, legal response for families in crisis Prepare children for school through quality early care and education experiences Offer a high quality education responsive to diverse learning needs Ensure access to preventative health care, especially as children enter school Educate parents about the importance of attendance Encourage families to help each other attend school

14 14 Baltimore: An Instructive Example

15 15 *1 st gr 3 rd gr 4 th gr5 th gr6 th gr 7 th gr 8 th gr 9 th gr10 th gr Chronic Absence in Baltimore MD Source: Baltimore Education Research Consortium

16 16 Students starting sixth grade in 1999-00 would be on-time 12 th graders in 2005-06. Based on their rates of chronic absence in 2002-03 (on-time 9th grade), what were their final outcomes in 2005-06?

17 17 A. Data, Information and Outreach. B. Get Commitment from School and City Leadership. C. Provide Support for a Broad-Based Community Effort to: i. Improve Quality of Attendance Data ii. Identify Strategies and Programs that Make Schools Student Friendly iii. Tailor Analysis and Solutions to Age/Grade Level of Students iv. Target Low Attendance Schools; Learn from High Attendance Schools v. Identify and Remove Barriers to Attendance vi. Identify and Eliminate Policies that Push Students out of School D. Initiate Public Campaign to Make Attendance Everyone’s Responsibility – Students, Parents, Families, Community, Schools and Public Agencies. Response in Baltimore (Attendance Initiative Led by Open Society Institute)

18 18 Implications for Federal Policy Encourage and provide support for states and school districts to: 1. Track absences using universal student identifiers starting in K, possibly earlier in pre-K programs. 2. Adopt a common definition of chronic absence (missing 10% or more of the school year regardless of whether absences are excused or unexcused). 3. Calculate and publicly report on the number of children chronically absent by type of school (elementary, middle, secondary), grade and student population (e.g. ethnicity, ELL status, special education).

19 19 Implications for Federal Policy 4. Require schools to address how they will improve high levels of chronic absence in their school improvement plans. Provide schools with strategies for improving attendance through technical assistance and peer learning opportunities. 5. Use chronic absence data to target provision of additional resources including: preschool and outreach to ensure utilization of economic supports such as EITC and child tax credits, free tax preparation, food stamps, children’s health insurance, free and reduce price meals, etc.

20 20 Summary  Chronic absence, starting in kindergarten, matters because it is an early indicator that children are falling off the path to school success  Schools and communities, working together, can improve attendance and reduce chronic absence  Taking action starts with counting so we know if a problem exists!

21 21 Additional Resources  Chang & Romero, Present, Engaged & Accounted For: The Critical Importance of Addressing Chronic Absence in the Early Grades, National Center for Children in Poverty: September 2008 ( )  For more info on Baltimore MD Attendance Initiative supported by the Open Society Institute, go to  Balfanz, Durham et. al, Lost Days: Patterns and Levels of Chronic Absenteeism Among Baltimore City Public School Students 1999-00 to 2005-06 http://baltimore-  Nauer, White & Yerneni, Strengthening Schools by Strengthening Families: Community Strategies to Reverse Chronic Absenteeism in the Early Grades and Improve Supports for Children and Families, Center for New York City Affairs, The New School: October, 2008. ols.html ols.html

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