Saturday, September 28, 2013

Daily Attendance and Chronic Absenteeism

This is an update of a post I wrote last year titled, "Chronic Absenteeism."  The State has made increasing attendance at schools a priority, and all elementary schools' attendance data is a part of our annual Strive HI evaluation. First quarter ends this coming week, and we will be analyzing attendance data, in compliance with our goal to decrease chronic absenteeism from 16% to 11%.  Last year, 16% of our students were chronically absent, defined as missing more than 15 days in the school year.  In other words,  16% of our students missed almost one whole month of learning whether excused or not.

This year, our counselors are taking the time each month to send letters to parents when students have five or more absences.  Some parents who received such a letter have expressed concern,  especially when they notified the teacher and the absences were excused.   We know that students need to be in school in order to maximize their learning opportunities.  The State policy and our school procedures are clear; after 5 or more absences, parents must be notified.  An absence is an absence, whether excused or not.

As a school, we are implementing a variety of programs to reverse this trend including incentives for those who have perfect attendance for the quarter, informing parents more regularly, and asking for suggestions from our school community.  However, our data suggests that these incentives and procedures are not having as positive an impact as we had hoped.

As a state, we are implementing the Common Core State Standards which has been adopted by 45 states. These standards are more rigorous and expectations are more challenging regarding what students should know and be able to do. Hopefully, this will make it easier for families when they leave Hawaii for another duty station, but missing too many school days may be detrimental to students.

Because we are a military-impacted school, our families have different challenges that affect school attendance.  With no extended family here on-island, a parent may not have the support when a child gets sick (and there's no way to get the student to school) or the soldier is deployed or in training.  When the soldier comes back from deployment or for R&R, families want to spend the time together or take a trip back home to spend time with their extended family.We realize that this is valuable time, and even if we would prefer students to be in school, we understand the importance of reunification especially when a parent has been in harm's way.Additionally, since our families are transient, we need to make sure that the loss of instructional days does not result in learning gaps which can impact students now and in the future when they enroll in a new school.

Besides implementing incentive programs, we need to send a consistent message to parents about the importance of students coming to school regularly and keeping up with their lessons.  This is why we are being diligent about sending letters to inform parents that we are concerned.

We can also use technology effectively for the purpose of ensuring that students do not fall too far behind.  For example, we have encouraged all of our teachers to post their assignments as well as learning resources on their class websites.  We have licenses for programs such as KidBiz3000, SOAR,and Measuring Up Live! which are web-based, and other resources are available on our library webpage which students can access anywhere, anytime from any computer.  We are moving towards cloud-based computing via google apps; students will be able to work on their assignments and keep in touch with their teachers even if they are not physically in school.  Our Blended Learning program is providing us with resources we can use with our fourth and fifth graders, and we should share similar resources for the other grade levels as well.

Our message to our parents is this:  we understand the challenges of being a military family, but we need to work together to ensure that our students -- your children -- will be ready for the next grade level whether they remain at Hale Kula or move to another school in our state, our country, or the world.  As a school, we need to have better procedures so parents understand that we are a team and that keeping up with schoolwork is essential. This also means that parents need to set aside time during vacations or emergency leaves so students can complete their assignments to ensure that they don't fall behind.

Our goal  is to decrease chronic absenteeism at our school from 16% to 11%.  It will take a collaborative effort to accomplish our goals, but we are determined to do all we can to reach our target so that all students continue to progress and have the skills and dispositions to be successful.


  1. Jan,

    We are very fortunate regarding this issue. There are multiple days in a month where every student will be in attendance. I know this sounds crazy, but when you have a smaller school this can be the norm. It certainly helps in creating consistency in learning. Students don't have to try and remember what they did a few days ago. Teachers don't need to spend a portion of their time "catching up" those that were absent. We feel very fortunate this is the case in our school.

    1. Thank you for your comment, Scott. This has been a major challenge for our school, and now that the State is using Chronic Absenteeism as one of our evaluation goals, we need to get everyone speaking the same message -- being in school is important! Our counselors even created a rap about being in school; we will be sharing it with our parents as well.