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California Students Demonstrate Chronic Absenteeism, Most Prevalent Among Low-Income & Disabled

First Posted: Sep 07, 2015 01:16 PM EDT

According to a new report, excused absences and instances of truancy are more common among California's low-income, black and disabled students than Hispanic and non-Hispanic white students, producing long-term dropout rates and achievement gaps for the absentee groups.

Attendance Works wrote the report, which found that chronic absenteeism could be the result of student health problems, and it's also prevalent among teens and younger students alike. Ten percent of kindergartners and first-grade students miss nearly a month of class during a given school year. However, in California, Hispanics have a higher attendance rate than whites.

Study authors indicated that young children are most affected by absences, even as middle school and high school students are also frequently absent. According to the report, disabled students were most likely to say they'd been absent three or more days in the previous month.

To learn if schools were meeting goals under the federal law, called Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP), attendance for elementary and middle schools in the state of California are being measured because new test scores are unavailable as California transitions to a new testing system.

The report examined California's fourth grade population and found 19 percent of all students missed three or more days during the month leading to NAEP assessments. It also found that Asians (12 percent) were less likely than non-Hispanic white (19 percent), black (22 percent) and Hispanic (20 percent) to miss three days or more from school. Also, 25 percent of fourth grade disabled students missed three or more days from school.

When looking at absenteeism among California's eighth-grade population, the findings were slightly similar to that of the fourth grade. Approximately 19 percent of all students missed three or more days of school. Again, Asian students (9 percent) were least likely to miss three or more day of school, when compared to Hispanic (19 percent) and white (21 percent), as well as 24 percent of disabled students.

Comparatively, 21 percent of fourth-grade and 22 percent of eighth grade students reported being absent at least three days during the previous month. Also, 23 percent of fourth-grade students and 24 percent of low-income children indicated three or more absences. Additionally, 22 percent of black fourth-graders and 23 percent of eighth-grade black students across the nation indicated they'd missed three days, compared to 19 percent of their white counterparts. Among disabled students, 25 percent of fourth-grade students and 28 percent of eighth-grade students missed three days or more.

Daily attendance numbers is a challenge to a school's success. Chronic absenteeism is even a challenge for schools with a 95 percent attendance rate, where 20 percent of students could still be chronically absent. The daily rate tells how many people show up each day, but it doesn't indicate how many days of school certain students are missing or if it puts students at academic risk.

The report found that California is one of six states to fail to collect attendance and track students over time. California state board officials have recommended setting a target daily attendance rate of 93 percent for elementary and middle school. However, absenteeism among Californian reflects attendance gaps seen across the nation, where disadvantaged students have the highest percentage of absenteeism. 

Statistics for the report was derived from the National Assessment of Educational Progress, which revealed absences can also be attributed to health concerns, disliking school and bullying. Also, students with disabilities are twice as likely to be given out-of-school suspensions, contributing to a greater number of absences.

California has yet to track chronic absenteeism within their school system. Though, some districts, such as Oakland Unified, began tracking truancy but found that most absences from school are excused. For this reason, principals have focused energy on helping students who struggle with transportation, health and other issues -- which should curb chronic absenteeism and generate long-term success.

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