In School + On Track 2014 - Kamala D. Harris California Attorney General

In School + On Track 2015

The Elementary School Attendance Imperative

Absences leads to dropouts

California is starting to take notice that improving elementary school attendance is a critical piece of a smart, cost-effective approach to economic development, public health and public safety. The facts are clear: when students are chronically absent from elementary school, they fall behind academically, they are less likely to graduate from high school, and they are more likely to be unemployed, on public assistance, or victims or perpetrators of crime.

This trajectory is far from inevitable; it is a solvable problem. Putting our kids on a path to success requires attention to student attendance, particularly in the early years. Research shows that early school attendance is a critical building block to a child’s success.1 Yet, many elementary students miss valuable learning time. These patterns of missing school start young—as early as preschool—and can have lasting, cumulative effects on students’ academic achievement and social development.2

Attorney General Kamala D. Harris has made reducing elementary school truancy and chronic absence a priority since her time as San Francisco’s District Attorney. She is joined in this work by many key partners, including State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson, Chief Justice Tani Cantil-Sakauye, Secretary of Health and Human Services Diana Dooley, and respected education and civil rights leaders across the state (See Acknowledgements for more). As part of this effort, the Attorney General releases an annual report, In School + On Track, to disseminate effective practices for reducing student absences, track changes in statewide attendance rates, raise awareness about the critical importance of elementary school attendance and call others to action.

The School-to-Prison Pipeline

is the “cascade of effects that occur when children are pushed out of schools and into the juvenile justice system.”3
This pipeline exacerbates existing racial and economic disparities in the education and justice systems.

Excessive absenteeism for any reason—an excused or unexcused absence, or due to suspensions—is a solvable component of this negative trajectory for our state’s most vulnerable elementary school students.

Missing school deprives students of important developmental and learning opportunities, reducing opportunities for later success in life, and increasing the risk of later involvement in the criminal justice system.

KEY TERMS

AVERAGE DAILY ATTENDANCE (ADA)4

ADA is the number of days of school a student attends divided by the total number of days of instruction. A student attending every day would equal one ADA. ADA is typically calculated at the school-, rather than student-level.

Truancy5

In California, a student is truant if he/she is absent or tardy by more than 30 minutes without a valid excuse on 3 occasions in a school year.

Habitual Truancy5

A student is habitually truant if he/she is absent without a valid excuse for 5 days during a school year.

Chronic Truancy6

A student is chronically truant if he/she is absent without a valid excuse for at least 10% of the school year.

Chronic Absence7

In California, chronic absence is defined as being absent for any reason (excused or unexcused) for at least 10% of the school year. Thus, in a 175- or 180-day school year, a student who misses 18 days of school or more is chronically absent.

Excused Absence8

Valid excuses may include illness, doctor or dentist appointments, personal reasons justified by a parent or guardian and other reasons within the discretion of school administrators.

In School + On Track 2015

In the 2015 report, we release new and updated data on the still alarming rates of elementary school truancy and chronic absence across the state. More than 1 in 5 elementary school students in California are truant based on data from the California Department of Education. Furthermore, we estimate that 8% of elementary school students in California are chronically absent.9 That means over 230,000 of our youngest students are already at risk of falling behind in school.

Our new data also show which of our students are missing the most school, with disproportionately high rates of absenteeism and suspensions for students of color, low-income, homeless, foster youth, and special education students.

However, we have begun to see a positive trend across California: increased attention and more concerted efforts to improve elementary school attendance. This report highlights some of the districts and counties engaged in this important work. These districts and counties serve as examples of progress in many locales across the state.

Momentum to Improve Attendance

Despite persistently high rates of elementary school absenteeism in California, there is momentum building among California school districts to improve elementary student attendance. Our 2015 data demonstrate that public awareness of the importance of school attendance has increased. Moreover, school districts are taking action to reduce truancy and chronic absence and to rethink discipline policies that remove elementary students from the classroom.

There is momentum building among California school districts to improve elementary student attendance.

While some of the changes school districts are making are innovative and new, many of the changes are more fundamental. For example, districts are improving their basic infrastructure for tracking, monitoring and addressing elementary school attendance problems. These common-sense changes include more systematic tracking and scheduled reviews of data and information-sharing to use data to address attendance issues.
For example, learn more about efforts by the Corona-Norco School District.

The movement to more systematically track and monitor attendance data allows districts to make crucial improvements in their daily work. Evidence from our survey suggests these changes are occurring in many districts statewide.

Better Tracking and Monitoring
  • In 2014, 72% of districts reported that they collect and monitor data on student absences and tardies longitudinally, or year over year. In 2015, 82% of districts reported that they collect and monitor student absences and tardies longitudinally.
  • The number of districts who communicate with schools in their district at least once a month about their rates of truancy and chronic absence has steadily increased over the past three years, from 54% of districts in 2013 to 60% of districts in 2015.
Increased Communication
  • 60% of school districts also report that they now have a system in place to alert a new school about a student's attendance history when a student transfers into their district from another district in California. While still inadequate to ensure students with poor attendance patterns receive the assistance they need when they transfer to a new school, this represents an improvement from 2014 when less than 50% of school districts reported this capability.

Increased Parent Engagement

Local education leaders also report a shift in the culture of school attendance from a focus on punishment to greater emphasis on prevention. As part of this movement, district and county leaders report extensive efforts to engage parents in attendance improvement initiatives. Districts report that parent outreach is most effective when it includes:

  • Discussions about student attendance data;
  • Information about the clear, negative impact of missed school on students’ academic success; and
  • Explanation of the critical role that parents play in ensuring their child attends school every single day.

For example, learn more about what Long Beach Unified School District is doing to engage parents in attendance improvement efforts.

To aid this outreach effort, Attorney General Harris has partnered with the Ad Council, a non-profit organization with expertise in public messaging, to combat California’s elementary school chronic absence and truancy crisis. Throughout early 2015, with support from The California Endowment, the Ad Council went straight to the source to learn more: it interviewed school administrators, teachers, and parents of chronically absent elementary students throughout California. The research found that although parents want what is best for their children, they do not always connect early absences to long-term consequences.

In fact, despite overwhelming evidence from research on the importance of consistently attending school in the early grades and the negative impact of high rates of absenteeism in elementary school,10 the study found the following misconceptions among parents.

Absenteeism in Elementary School: Common Misconceptions
  1. Early grade attendance isn’t as important as high school
  2. Students will catch up before they get to high school
  3. Only absences on consecutive days have a negative impact
  4. Absences are okay as long as the parent signs off

The study also discovered what changes parents’ minds: explaining the negative effects of absences, rather than the positive effects of attendance; focusing on the number of absences per month, rather than the number of absences per year; and using statistics to connect early absences to later consequences, rather than relying on abstract statements. A full toolkit with the results of this research and tips for educators and community-based organizations will be released in Fall 2015.

Widespread Improvements to Attendance Practices in California

California school districts’ efforts to improve elementary school attendance are widespread. Over 95% of surveyed school districts reported they have made changes to their policies and programs to improve elementary school attendance or that they are planning to make changes for the 2015-2016 school year.

Local Control and Accountability Plan
(LCAP)

Every school district, charter school, and county office of education must adopt a Local Control and Accountability Plan (LCAP), which must specify annual goals and action plans that address all eight state priorities.

One of the state’s 8 priorities is “pupil engagement,” which is to be measured by school attendance rates, chronic absenteeism rates, middle school and high school dropout rates, and high school graduation rates.

LCAPs must address all 8 state priorities for the entire student body, as well as for numerically significant pupil subgroups, which include racial/ethnic groups, low-income pupils, English Learners, pupils with disabilities, and foster youth.

More than 60% of school districts surveyed cited an increased awareness of attendance issues in their district as a reason for changes in their attendance programs. Almost 60% of school districts also attributed their changing practices to their Local Control and Accountability Plan (LCAP).

Districts cited a number of improvements to their attendance policies and programs over the past two years, including:

  • 22% of districts began to contact parents when a student approaches or reaches the chronic absenteeism threshold in the 2013-2014 school year.
  • 25% of districts began to review attendance data more frequently in the 2013-2014 school year.
  • 23% of districts began to collect and analyze data on the number of students who are chronically absent in the 2014-2015 school year.
  • More than 25% of districts changed their discipline policies in the 2013-2014 school year so that students miss less school for suspensions. An additional 25% of districts reported making this change for the 2014-2015 school year.
  • 25% of districts plan to allocate additional financial resources to prevention and intervention strategies in the 2015-2016 school year.

Over 95% of school districts surveyed reported they have made changes to their policies and programs to improve elementary school attendance or that they are planning to make changes for the 2015-2016 school year.

Almost 90% of district LCAPs in our study state goals for chronic absence — a significant improvement from 2014 when just over half of LCAPs reviewed stated chronic absence goals.

Our analysis of 200 LCAPs also demonstrates an increased and widespread focus on attendance in 2015. Almost 90% of district LCAPs in our study state goals for chronic absence—a significant improvement from 2014 when just over half of LCAPs reviewed stated chronic absence goals.11

Furthermore, 75% of all school districts provided specific, annual, measureable chronic absence goals in their 2015 LCAPs, while only 30% did in 2014.

Examples of Specific, Annual, Measurable Goals in District LCAPs

Loleta Union School District

shows a detailed understanding of its students’ needs in its LCAP. In order to meet its goal of reducing chronic absence by 5% annually, the district identifies a wide range of strategies including school climate-related actions (putting soccer goals on school fields to increase Hispanic families’ presence on school grounds), administrative actions (buying an automated phone announcement system and providing postcards for teachers to send to families), and health-related actions (reducing lice absences by providing lice kits for families).

Oroville City Elementary School District

set modest attendance goals in its LCAP, such as decreasing chronic absence by 1% annually. However, the strategies to achieve those goals were specific and promising. For example, the district will provide Hmong and Spanish-speaking Parent Liaisons to communicate with and help increase participation among parents that speak those languages. Likewise, the district has committed to increasing the number of school functions for parents. This shows a specific philosophy that parent participation is important to attendance in that district.

Yet there is still work to be done. Almost 85% of LCAPs still fail to disaggregate their chronic absence goals by subgroup and 66% of district LCAPs do not include current chronic absence data.

California School Districts Are Adopting Effective Elements of Local Control and Accountability Plans (LCAPs)

Elements of an Effective LCAP 2014 Review of 80 District LCAPs 2015 Review of 200 District LCAPs
Includes chronic absence data 18% 33.9%
States chronic absence goals 52% 88.5%
Includes specific chronic absence goals 30% 74.3%
Lists chronic absence goals by subgroup 5% 15.9%

The Need for State Attendance Data

The lack of chronic absence data in district LCAPs points to a larger problem in California: the continued need to improve the state’s attendance data.12

Accountability

California remains one of only a handful of states13 that does not track student attendance in its statewide longitudinal student information system, the California Longitudinal Pupil Achievement Data System (CALPADS). As a result of the paucity of statewide data, many school districts are unable to access data on attendance for students’ previous academic years, especially for students that transfer into their district.14 A key problem with districts’ lack of access to transfer students’ records is that it disproportionally disadvantages foster youth whose school placements change frequently.15 Accordingly, 54% of districts report that having access to attendance histories for new students entering the district would help them improve their efforts to track, monitor, and address truancy and chronic absences.16

California’s student information system also does not track information on the number of students who are chronically absent. This puts the onus on districts to develop their own systems for tracking such data, as required for setting measurable goals for reducing chronic absence in their LCAPs. Indeed, 1 in 10 districts told us they do not currently have access to chronic absence rates for all schools in their districts and for all subgroups of students.17

The Extent of the Elementary Attendance Crisis

Because California lacks important statewide attendance data, since 2013 the Attorney General’s Office has commissioned research to estimate the extent of elementary school absenteeism in California. We use multiple sources of data for this purpose, including:

  1. Data from Aeries client school districts representing over 350,000 K-5 California students
  2. Data from over 250 California school districts18 in on our 2015 district leadership survey
  3. Statewide data on truancy and average daily attendance from the California Department of Education (CDE)
Missed 18 or more school days

Through a partnership with Eagle Software and the participation of their Aeries client districts, we have access to a unique dataset that provides detailed information about elementary school absenteeism in California. Data from over 350,000 K-5 students in the state indicate that high levels of elementary school absenteeism continue to be a serious problem in California.

Chronic absence rates19 remain just over 8% for K-5 students, meaning that an estimated 230,000 students in California missed 18 or more days of school in the 2014-2015 school year.20 Furthermore, as many as 31,000 students in California are estimated to have missed more than 36 days of school, or 20% of the 2014-2015 school year.

attendance-tracking

Truancy rates also remain high. Data from the California Department of Education indicate that elementary truancy rates have increased slightly in the state from 21.3% in 2012-2013 to 23.2% in 2013-2014. Data from Aeries similarly suggest that the elementary school truancy rate is 23.8% for the 2014-2015 school year. However, the slight increase in truancy rates over the last three years must be interpreted with caution. Interviews with school district officials and a specialist in attendance information systems suggest that school districts have developed improved systems for tracking and monitoring truancy and chronic absence. Therefore, these increased rates may actually be an indication of better reporting rather than an increase in the number of unexcused absences in the state. Similar to previous years, elementary school truancy represents 40% of all truancy in the state.21

Map of Elementary School Truancy Rates in California

 

Elementary School Truancy Rates & Loss of Funding by County

Scroll/Slide left and right to view more data.
County 2012-2013
Elementary School Truancy Rate
2013-2014
Elementary School Truancy Rate
Change from
2012-2013 to
2013-2014
2014-2015
Loss of Funding
2014-2015
Per pupil Losses
Alameda 20.72% 20.80% 0.11% $41,553,506.00 $204.56
Alpine 5.36% 17.2% 11.88% $- $-
Amador 15.16% 7.3% -7.82% $913,916.27 $228.82
Butte 21.43% 20.60% -0.87% $6,032,538.80 $224.88
Calaveras 27.18% 24.90% -2.30% $716,007.82 $136.85
Colusa 6.32% 5.30% -1.01% $1,089,674.00 $237.45
Contra Costa 21.90% 30.40% 8.50% $36,029,637.00 $213.49
Del Norte 21.43% 17.20% -4.19% $762,342.47 $217.69
El Dorado 21.51% 27.50% 6.00% $4,736,444.80 $189.44
Fresno 21.78% 26.70% 4.96% $51,370,136.00 $270.16
Glenn 17.56% 14.40% -3.12% $1,236,926.10 $233.82
Humboldt 23.49% 25.30% 1.78% $4,765,200.10 $304.74
Imperial 24.40% 30.60% 6.16% $8,537,466.30 $237.33
Inyo 14.74% 27.70% 13.00% $584,624.44 $211.97
Kern 25.15% 26.30% 1.14% $46,638,610.00 $271.73
Kings 23.37% 25.90% 2.52% $6,711,518.20 $249.62
Lake 32.82% 31.80% -1.04% $3,355,343.30 $374.19
Lassen 23.69% 38.70% 14.97% $546,611.71 $159.78
Los Angeles 22.05% 23.20% 1.16% $232,400,000.00 $172.37
Madera 15.50% 24.00% 8.49% $7,452,382.80 $256.48
Marin 10.04% 15.00% 4.97% $3,780,848.80 $116.24
Mariposa 13.03% 17.80% 4.76% $526,554.43 $305.25
Mendocino 14.37% 23.10% 8.77% $3,672,574.10 $313.36
Merced 21.89% 22.60% 0.69% $15,321,175.00 $272.22
Modoc 26.36% 31.30% 4.89% $384,331.77 $271.80
Mono 41.15% 5.0% -36.18% $- $-
Monterey 18.35% 14.70% -3.66% $19,352,636.00 $263.76
Napa 8.55% 10.20% 1.69% $4,480,698.40 $229.39
Nevada 16.20% 22.20% 5.95% $529,671.45 $71.41
Orange 15.12% 15.80% 0.64% $48,654,327.00 $100.92
Placer 15.47% 16.30% 0.83% $7,806,293.20 $126.97
Plumas 15.54% 12.30% -3.24% $- $-
Riverside 25.06% 28.20% 3.14% $96,833,125.00 $238.24
Sacramento 26.43% 31.20% 4.75% $52,502,371.00 $247.53
San Benito 17.61% 17.20% -0.39% $2,063,673.30 $190.24
San Bernardino 27.38% 30.20% 2.84% $80,935,508.00 $210.57
San Diego 21.03% 21.10% 0.10% $74,218,304.00 $168.99
San Francisco 25.81% 29.30% 3.44% $12,731,155.00 $238.86
San Joaquin 23.14% 23.80% 0.69% $33,288,666.00 $263.28
San Luis Obispo 27.45% 32.30% 4.80% $5,850,325.20 $172.47
San Mateo 18.04% 21.20% 3.11% $7,162,094.70 $80.39
Santa Barbara 14.37% 17.20% 2.81% $14,695,498.00 $227.51
Santa Clara 15.48% 15.80% 0.36% $23,878,693.00 $96.47
Santa Cruz 26.25% 23.40% -2.82% $11,843,468.00 $341.49
Shasta 35.35% 36.30% 0.93% $5,128,247.20 $222.24
Sierra 29.72% 40.90% 11.19% $- $-
Siskiyou 9.74% 20.20% 10.43% $1,212,213.20 $226.16
Solano 22.01% 26.70% 4.71% $13,922,919.00 $230.80
Sonoma 14.94% 17.70% 2.76% $11,558,660.00 $217.34
Stanislaus 21.72% 23.00% 1.23% $21,618,960.00 $218.16
Sutter 13.58% 19.70% 6.10% $4,522,436.80 $255.25
Tehama 11.25% 11.20% -0.06% $2,997,739.70 $288.91
Trinity 18.20% 20.60% 2.36% $131,483.06 $87.36
Tulare 18.62% 20.60% 1.99% $22,804,243.00 $237.98
Tuolumne 25.19% 29.30% 4.06% $1,266,844.60 $236.35
Ventura 15.43% 16.10% 0.62% $24,885,693.00 $182.67
Yolo 20.63% 24.20% 3.52% $7,078,898.40 $252.34
Yuba 16.26% 16.70% 0.46% $3,109,696.60 $248.36
State Totals 21.32% 23.20% 1.88% $1,096,182,912.02 $204.25

Attendance Gaps for the State’s Most Vulnerable Children

Certain elementary school students are particularly susceptible to high rates of absenteeism. The Attorney General’s 2014 Report revealed that low-income students and students of color are much more likely to be absent from elementary school and to miss a greater number of days due to suspensions.22 Specifically, the Attorney General’s 2014 report revealed disproportionately high rates of absenteeism for African American and Native American students in California when compared to their White and Asian peers.

“Today’s attendance gaps become tomorrow’s achievement gaps.”

New data for the 2015 report confirm these high rates of truancy and chronic absence for low-income students and students of color.

For example, over 75% of students with chronic attendance problems are low-income. In addition, nearly 20% of African American and Native American elementary school students were chronically absent in the 2014-2015 school year, while only 8.0% of Whites and 3.7% of Asians were chronically absent. Moreover, chronic absence rates for Native American and African American students were almost 30% in kindergarten.

Aeries data for the 2014-2015 school year do not reveal higher chronic absence rates for Latinos and English Learners compared to other student populations. However, as noted in the 2014 report, studies conducted in other districts indicate considerably higher rates of chronic absence for these groups. According to one study, more than one in five Latino students is chronically absent.23 A case study of students in California also found that English learners were more likely to be chronically absent than other students.24

These racial disparities in absences, particularly in the earliest years, must be a call to action to school districts and state policymakers.

Chronic absence and truancy rates were slightly higher for boys than for girls in every grade—kindergarten through fifth. Yet, absence rates tend to vary more by race than by gender. For example, African American girls have higher rates of truancy and chronic absence in all grades when compared to Asian, White and Latino boys. The gap in absence rates25 between African American students and their White, Asian and Latino peers is particularly large in kindergarten. These racial disparities in absences, particularly in the earliest years, must be a call to action to school districts and state policymakers.

 
Absences leads to dropouts

In February 2015, the Attorney General’s Office announced the creation of the Bureau of Children’s Justice. Among the Bureau’s top priorities is improving conditions for children in foster care, along with other vulnerable student populations, which includes improving school attendance.

Data from our sample of Aeries client school districts confirm the need for greater attention to improving attendance for foster26 and homeless students, low-income students, and special education students. K-5 chronic absence rates among these groups range from 9.0% to 13.1%. High chronic absence and severe chronic absence rates for special education students and high chronic truancy rates for homeless students warrant additional attention from school personnel and policymakers.

Disproportionate Absences in the Early Grades

California’s attendance crisis is particularly serious for students in the earliest grades. Chronic absence rates for kindergarten students are nearly 15%, while kindergarten truancy rates are almost 30%. Although there is some improvement in attendance as students move through the grades in elementary school, almost 9% of all students are chronically absent in first grade and over 6% of all students are chronically absent in third grade.

These high rates of absenteeism in the early grades have been shown to have a clear negative impact on students’ early academic achievement. One study found that 4 out of 5 students who were absent more than 10% of the school year in kindergarten and 1st grade were unable to read on grade-level by 3rd grade. Moreover, kids who can’t read on grade-level by 3rd grade are 4 times more likely to drop out of school.27

Data from over 1,500 pre-kindergarten students also show high rates of absenteeism. Twelve percent of pre-kindergarten students were chronically absent in the 2014-2015 school year. These rates were particularly high for low-income students. Nearly 1 in 5 low-income students was chronically absent in pre-kindergarten. In addition, Asian, Latino and African American students, as well as homeless and special education students all had chronic absence rates over 10% in pre-kindergarten.28

Efforts to reduce high rates of absenteeism in the early grades must be a part of tailored policies and programs to improve attendance across the state. Learn more about how changes to kindergarten and pre-kindergarten policies may help improve early attendance.

Tailored Programs to Meet At-Risk Students and Families' Needs

Some districts and key stakeholders have already started to target their attendance improvement efforts to meet the specific needs of students with the highest absence rates and the greatest barriers to attendance. These districts can serve as a model for others in the state.

Learn more about how Oakland’s Department of African American Male Achievement is working to reduce suspensions and improve attendance for African American boys.

Learn more about how the Yurok Tribe is partnering with their local school district to improve attendance for elementary school students.

However, district survey results indicate the need for greater attention in this area. Only half of all survey respondents indicated that they currently have a program to serve all at-risk students, while less than one-third of school districts have programs that focus on individual groups of at-risk students (e.g., a program specifically designed to meet the needs of foster youth).

District Programs for At-Risk Elementary Students

California School Districts with Programs Designed to Improve Attendance for At-Risk Elementary School Students
Yes No Starting a program
in 2015-2016
Foster Youth 33.7% 55.2% 11.1%
Students Eligible For Free And Reduced Price Meals 27.0% 63.1% 9.9%
English Learners 27.0% 62.3% 10.7%
Homeless Youth 35.3% 55.2% 9.5%
Students With Disabilities 32.5% 59.9% 7.5%
Students With Mental Health Issues 31.7% 61.9% 6.3%
All At-Risk Students 50.0% 36.5% 13.5%

Discipline to Teach, Not to Punish

Our data on suspension rates statewide indicate the continued need to rethink discipline policies that remove students from the classroom.29 Many of the students most affected by these policies are the same students most in need of greater support for academic and social development. Information on discipline rates for elementary students presented in this report corroborate efforts in California and nationally to reduce the number of school days students miss due to suspensions, and to reduce disproportionality in the high rates of suspension among students of color, particularly boys.30

 
Absences leads to dropouts

Indeed, school discipline data from Aeries client districts indicate extreme disproportionality in suspension rates by both race and gender, as well as for other subgroups.

For example, the suspension rate for African American elementary school students is four times the rate of their White peers.31 The disparity is even greater for African American boys. African American boys are 5 times more likely to be suspended than all other boys. Native American, foster and special education students also have significantly higher suspension rates than the averages for all students.

Further, boys had significantly higher suspension rates than girls in 2014-2015. African American boys in particular had the highest elementary school suspension rates, over four times that of African American girls in the 2014-2015 school year. This stark racial and gender gap in suspensions begins in first grade.

Yet, African American elementary school girls also have high suspension rates. African American girls, while less likely than black boys to be suspended, are almost 9 times more likely to be suspended than all other girls, and are suspended at the same rate as all other boys with the exception of African American boys.

Suspension rates also increase substantially between kindergarten and fifth grade for White, Latino and African American boys, while rates for girls, with the exception of African American girls, remain relatively steady.

Foster, homeless, English Learner, low-income, and special education elementary school students also show higher suspension rates for boys when compared to girls at every grade level. Furthermore, these rates increase year-after-year, with the highest suspension rates in fifth grade. The high rate of suspension among the state’s most vulnerable elementary school boys, particularly later in elementary school, puts them at greater risk for academic failure.

These suspension rates represent a substantial number of missed days of school for California students. Based on our analysis, in the 2014-2015 school year elementary students in California missed an estimated 110,000 days of school due to suspensions.

In the 2014-2015 school year, elementary students in California missed an estimated 110,000 days of school due to suspensions.

District survey results indicate that while 94% of school districts surveyed reported that they track out-of-school suspensions, only 60% of respondents reported that they track these suspensions by subgroup and only two-thirds track out-of-school suspensions by grade. These findings suggest more must be done to track and monitor exactly which students are missing school due to suspensions, and how much school they are missing.32 Furthermore, the most effective discipline policies are designed to teach students how to correct their behavior rather than simply punishing them.33 Accordingly, many policymakers and practitioners are currently engaged in critical discussions about the purpose of suspensions, particularly out-of-school suspensions, and their impact on student learning and social development.

For example, learn more about the work to reduce suspensions in the Mt. Diablo Unified School District.

The High Cost of Elementary School Absenteeism

California school districts have lost $4.5 billion in 4 years due to absenteeism.

High rates of absenteeism in elementary school have all too predictable outcomes. In 2013-2014, 1 in 4 low-income students failed to graduate from high school. African American and Native American students also had lower graduation rates than their White and Asian peers.34

The high cost of student absences in elementary school extend to lost revenues for school districts in California, revenues that could be used to improve the quality of education and outcomes for students who need it most. In 2014-15 alone, school districts statewide lost over $1 billion due to student absences.35 These losses top $4.5 billion in four years.36373839

2015 survey data also confirm, as in previous years, that many individual districts lose millions of dollars each year due to student absences. One district reported a loss of $12 million dollars in the 2014-2015 school year alone.

$4.5 billion could pay for

Yet, even modest investments in programs to reduce student absences have significant payoffs. 2015 survey data confirm findings from the 2014 report.40 Most school districts report spending less than $50,000 on truancy and chronic absence programs, while some districts recoup between $500,000 and $1 million dollars in ADA funding.

Learn more about Napa Valley Unified School District’s Super Saturdays Program to improve academic achievement and recoup ADA funding.

For example, Petaluma City Schools reported that they were able to recoup between $300,000 and $400,000 in ADA funds due to their prevention and intervention efforts. According to a representative from the district, “Our Student Services program, which includes truancy prevention, has been evolving for the last 10 years. We have taken our successful practices and matched them with LCAP initiatives, using supplemental dollars for alternative educational options and mental health support.”

In the past 2-3 years, Covina-Valley Unified School District saved $1.2 million due to truancy and chronic absence prevention and intervention efforts.

Covina-Valley Unified School District reported saving $1.2 million in the past two to three years due to their truancy and chronic absence prevention and intervention efforts. Moreover, Covina-Valley Unified School District has mentored several other districts on how to develop effective prevention and intervention programs.

Similarly, Paso Robles Public Schools reported that they recoup approximately $325,000 in funds each year. According to a representative from the district, “Every school site sets attendance goals, goals are monitored on a monthly basis. We have our own SARB board with over 6 outside agencies involved to assist parents as well as a district truancy officer who averages 100 home visits per month (we track visits). Our district LCAP committee supported attendance by allocating money for intervention specialists at all school sites to assist ‘at-risk’ students.”

A Solvable Problem

Elementary school truancy and chronic absence is a solvable problem. Small, manageable changes in policies and practices can improve elementary school attendance. And when school attendance improves, academic achievement improves.4142

"Everything is solvable"
— Felicia Cruz Delgado,
Corona-Norco Unified School District

While there is much more work to be done, we have begun to see examples of districts and organizations developing important strategies, policies, and procedures to address elementary school truancy and chronic absence. These strategies include:

1. Intervening early to stop patterns of absenteeism

Many California districts have already begun to implement systems for early intervention when attendance problems arise. For example, learn more about how San Ramon Valley Unified School District’s (SRVUSD) focus on early intervention and a move towards a more centralized system for monitoring attendance improved the district’s ability to serve students and their families:
San Ramon Valley Unified School District

Evidence from other states that collect statewide attendance data and have statewide attendance accountability systems demonstrate the benefits of an improved statewide infrastructure for tracking and monitoring attendance data, including the ability to intervene early when attendance problem emerge. Learn more about statewide attendance systems in Hawaii and Connecticut:
Statewide Attendance Systems

2. Reaching out to parents and engaging them about the importance of elementary school attendance

In recognition of the central role that parents play in reducing truancy and chronic absence in elementary school, many school districts and county offices of education have focused their efforts on increasing parent engagement around the importance of regular school attendance.

Learn more about Long Beach Unified School District’s efforts to improve attendance through extensive outreach to parents:
Long Beach Unified School District

Learn more about Solano County and Contra Costa County comprehensive Attendance Awareness campaigns:
Solano County Office of Education
Contra Costa County Office of Education

The Ad Council, with funding from the California Endowment, conducted research to identify the clearest, most relevant, and motivating messaging to dispel parent misconceptions about school attendance that contribute to chronic absence and truancy. Learn more about new research from the Ad Council on why elementary school students miss school and how we can talk to parents about it.
Ad Council Strategic Research

3. Enhancing district systems for tracking and monitoring student attendance

Robust systems for tracking and monitoring student attendance reveal which students are missing school, and how much school they are missing. These systems also illustrate patterns in attendance, critical to prevention and intervention efforts.

Corona-Norco Unified School District’s customization of Attendance Works’ free District Attendance Tracking Tool (DATT) is an example of the innovative ways districts have leveraged limited resources to create effective systems for tracking, monitoring and responding to attendance problems. Learn more at
Corona-Norco Unified School District

The Attorney General’s Office has partnered with the University of California, Santa Barbara (UCSB) to enact the Truancy Reduction Pilot Projects. The project focuses on consistent tracking and monitoring of attendance and absence data, early intervention, and innovative truancy and chronic absence prevention programs. Learn more about the Pilot Projects:
Truancy Reduction Pilot Projects

4. Using a tiered approach to reducing chronic absence

Model attendance programs are effective in all three tiers: Tier 1 Prevention, Tier 2 Early Intervention, and Tier 3 Intensive Intervention. Learn more about the California Department of Education's 3 Tiers approach to reducing chronic absence:
3 Tiers Approach

5. Developing discipline policies that keep kids in school and reduce disproportionality in suspensions and expulsions

Many school districts across the state have made it a priority to reduce suspensions and keep kids at school. Some of the strategies developed include a focus on uniform responses to discipline issues, creating opportunities for students to be more engaged in learning, using data to look for disproportionality in suspension rates, and increasing engagement with parents and community partners.

For example, the Oakland Unified School District’s Department of African American Male Achievement and the Mt. Diablo Unified School District have developed strategies for reducing suspension and chronic absence rates for students of color. Learn more:
OUSD Department of African American Male Achievement
Mt. Diablo Unified School District

6. Using Local Control and Accountability Plans (LCAPs) to set goals to reduce truancy and chronic absence and ensure that district budgets support these goals

The Attorney General’s Office, along with our partners at Attendance Works, California Fight Crime: Invest in Kids, Children Now, California School-Based Health Alliance, and the Education Trust-West, conducted an analysis of 200 district LCAPs to determine whether districts are fulfilling their LCAP requirements related to improving student attendance. Learn more about how the LCAP can be used to set truancy and chronic absence reduction goals:
2015 LCAP Analysis

7. Creating new partnerships between the community, school districts, and social services to provide tailored support to best serve the needs of students and their families.

Some students and their families face significant barriers to regular school attendance. In these instances, a range of resources may be necessary to get at the root cause of these barriers, resources that are difficult for a single agency to provide on its own. In other cases, opportunities for parents to learn more about how absences can negatively impact their child’s future and the important role parents play in ensuring their child attends school every day can change negative attendance patterns. Learn more about how the California Attendance Peer Learning Network, Kings County Office of Education and the Keeping Kids in School and Out of Court collaborative in San Luis Obispo and San Diego Counties made collaboration with other agencies a centerpiece of their efforts to improve attendance:
Peer Learning Network
Kings County Office of Education
Keeping Kids in School and Out of Court

Conclusion

Improving the long-term health of our state—from economic development to public health to public safety—requires creating conditions in California that allow residents to lead healthy and productive lives.

The purpose of this report is to highlight new efforts that are keeping elementary students in classrooms and learning, and to encourage other school districts to adopt these practices. Educators across the state are realizing that improving elementary school attendance is a cost-effective way to improve educational outcomes and in turn, improve the health and safety of our state. Making sure elementary school students are in the classroom is a prerequisite to ensuring they have the academic tools they need to develop the skills necessary for the 21st century.

Footnotes

  1. The Campaign for Fiscal Equity, Inc., Taking Attendance Seriously: How School absences Undermine Student and School Performance in New York City (May 2011); Michael Gottfried, Can Center-Based Childcare Reduce the Odds of Early Chronic Absenteeism?, EARLY RESEARCH QUARTERLY (2015).
  2. Faith Connolly and Linda S. Olson, Early Elementary Performance and Attendance in Baltimore City Schools’ Pre-Kindergarten and Kindergarten, BALTIMORE EDUCATION RESEARCH CONSORTIUM (March 2012), www.baltimore-berc.org/pdfs/PreKKAttendanceFullReport.pdf; Attendance in Early Elementary Grades: Association with Student Characteristics, School Readiness and Third Grade Outcomes, APPLIED SURVEY RESEARCH (May 2011).
  3. Wesley T. Church, II, David W. Springer, Albert R. Roberts, Juvenile Justice Sourcebook 2nd Ed., OXFORD UNIVERSITY PRESS (2014).
  4. ADA is a school-wide, not student-specific, metric and can therefore mask high rates of chronic absence. Definition taken from www.edsource.org/wp-content/publications/SchFinGlossary04.pdf
  5. Truancy: Cal. Ed. Code § 48260(a);
    Habitual Truancy: A student may not be considered a habitual truant unless a conscientious effort has been made by a district officer or employee to hold at least one conference with the parent or guardian and the pupil. Cal. Ed. Code § 48262.
  6. A student may not be considered a chronic truant unless an appropriate district officer or employee has complied with all the parent truancy notification and meeting laws as well as referral to a SARB and proper legal authority for prosecution. It is also important to note that the absences of 10% or more school days are from the date of enrollment to the current date, so a full year of enrollment is not required to be deemed a chronic truant. Cal. Ed. Code § 48263.6.
  7. The 10% percent or more of schooldays missed is calculated by dividing the total number of days a pupil is absent by the total number of days the pupil is enrolled and school was actually taught. This means a student’s identification as a chronic absentee can change throughout the school year if attendance improves. Cal. Ed. Code § 60901.
  8. School administrators now have discretion in excusing absences based on individual pupil’s circumstances. Section 48205 includes the “standard” excuses such as doctor appointments and illness. Section 48225.5 applies to special situations for pupils with work permits. Section 48260 gives administrators discretion for all other possible reasons based on the particular circumstances of the pupil. Cal. Ed. Code §§ 48205, 4822.5, 48260.
  9. Based on a sample of over 350,000 California K-5 elementary school students.[ Learn More ]
  10. Center for Court Innovation, From Absent to Present: Reducing Teen Chronic Absenteeism in New York City (2013), at 23.
  11. 2014 research was based on a review of 80 LCAPs; www.attendanceworks.org/policy-advocacy/state-reports/california/california-funding-brief-accountable-for-attendance/
  12. In School + On Track 2014
  13. Hedy Chang and Rochelle Davis, Mapping the Early Attendance Gap: Charting A Course for School Success, ATTENDANCE WORKS (September 2015), www.attendanceworks.org/wordpress/wp-content/uploads/2015/07/Mapping-the-Early-Attendance-Gap-Final-4.pdf.
  14. In School + On Track 2014
  15. For example, 26% of more than 1,100 foster youth in our sample of elementary school students were enrolled for fewer than 60 days in the districts from which their data was submitted. For more information on foster youth mobility and the challenges it poses for closing achievement gaps, see West Ed, The Invisible Achievement Gap (2013).
  16. Based on survey responses from over 250 California school districts.
  17. Based on survey responses from over 250 California school districts.
  18. 25% of all California school districts.
  19. Students who miss 18 or more days of school or 10% of the school year.
  20. Chronic absence rates for the 2014-2015 school year are comparable to those for the 2013-2014 school year. 8.1% of k-6 students were chronically absent, according to our analysis of Aeries data for the 2013-2014 school year. These numbers were generated using a different sample of Aeries districts than the sample that was used in 2014-2015.
  21. Elementary students represented 46% of all students enrolled in California schools in 2013-2014.
  22. The Campaign for Fiscal Equality, Inc., Taking Attendance Seriously: How School Absences Undermine Student and School Performance in New York City (May 2011), http://tinyurl.com/knebtlk.
  23. Ibid.
  24. Monika Sanchez, Truancy and Chronic Absence in Redwood City, JOHN W. GARDNER CENTER FOR YOUTH AND THEIR COMMUNITIES, STANFORD SCHOOL OF EDUCATION (April, 2012).
  25. With the exception of truancy rates.
  26. Data for foster students should be interpreted with caution. The number of absences are likely understated because school records for foster students are more likely to be incomplete due to student mobility.
  27. What is Chronic Absence?, ATTENDANCE WORKS (2011).
  28. Note: Sample sizes for subgroups ranged from 28 to 1200 students.
  29. Analysis based on data from Aeries client districts.
  30. For more information on national efforts: www.ed.gov/k-12reforms.
  31. Suspension rates include duplicated counts.
  32. Districts can find suggestions for setting goals related to discipline at: http://oag.ca.gov/sites/all/files/agweb/pdfs/tr/draft-sample-lcap.pdf.
  33. Deanne A. Crone, Leanne S. Hawken, and Robert H. Homer, Building Positive Behavior Support Systems in Schools, 2nd ed. (2015), http://tinyurl.com/nbaqhfb.
  34. For 2013-2014, California’s cohort graduation rate is 80.1 percent for all students and 75.4 percent for socioeconomically disadvantaged students. In the 2013-2014 school year, Native American students had a cohort graduation rate of 70.6 percent and African American students had a cohort graduation rate of 68.2 percent. For the same year, the cohort graduation rate for White students was 87.6, while the cohort graduation rate for Asian students was 92.4 percent. Cohort Outcome Data for the Class of 2013-14: Statewide Results, CALIFORNIA DEPARTMENT OF EDUCATION(July 2015), http://dq.cde.ca.gov/dataquest/cohortrates/GradRates.aspx?cds=00000000000000&TheYear=2013-14&Agg=T&Topic=Graduates&RC=State&SubGroup=Ethnic/Racial; State Schools Chief Tom Torlakson Reports Record High Graduation Rate, CALIFORNIA DEPARTMENT OF EDUCATION (April 28, 2015), www.cde.ca.gov/nr/ne/yr15/yr15rel34.asp.
  35. School District Revenue Calculations
  36. Stephen Ceasar, New Database Details Pay Of California Public School Employees, LA TIMES (July 24, 2014)..
  37. School Nurse Salary (2015), EDUCATION CENTER.
  38. School Meal Trends & Stats.
  39. California Department of Education, School Libraries (May 7, 2015),.
  40. In School + On Track 2014
  41. California School Board Association Annual Education Conference, Student Achievement Starts with Attendance (November 29, 2012).
  42. Michael Gottfried, Can Center-Based Childcare Reduce the Odds of Early Chronic Absenteeism?, EARLY RESEARCH CHILDHOOD QUARTERLY (April 2015).

In School + On Track 2013


Loading...