By Michael Piccirillo, Ed.D, CASDA Executive Director
Why should the number 18 be important for educators? Students who miss 18 days of a full school year, or 10 percent of the total number of school days they are enrolled, are considered to be chronically absent. Whether it is excused or unexcused, an absence is an absence, and missing any instructional time jeopardizes student success.
Why are we talking about chronic absenteeism in 2019? What gets measured gets attention. The New York State Education Department uses multiple school quality indicators to gauge progress. One of those indicators, chronic absenteeism, “measures the percentage of students who miss 10 percent or more of the school year against long-term goals and measures of interim progress or MIP’s.” What can school districts do to address this complex and pervasive problem?
Recognizing this large concern of its member districts, CASDA recently held a sold-out “Tackling Chronic Absenteeism” conference. More than 60 participants were provided background information and had the opportunity to explore challenges and solutions related to chronic absenteeism in breakout groups by school level (elementary, middle, high). The breakouts were facilitated by CASDA’s Rebecca Gardner and administrators Andrew Kourt, principal of Walter B. Howard Elementary School in the New Lebanon School District, Brian Bishop, assistant principal of Averill Park High School, and Dr. Antonio Abitabile, principal of Hudson High School. Grade level groups explored the topic as it impacts local school districts and were introduced to resources they could use upon return to their districts. The enthusiasm for this topic prompted the scheduling of a second conference on March 29, 2019.
CASDA’s partner, Hanover Research, has provided a valuable research brief on the topic of student attendance for our members to use. “Best Practices in Improving Student Attendance” provides an overview of the potential negative impact of chronic absenteeism on student outcomes. Research outlining effective strategies for improving student attendance is offered along with a trademark of Hanover’s research briefs, case studies highlighting successful implementation of research-based best practices. One of the report’s key findings is interesting, but hardly surprising: “The most successful attendance policies should involve families and the broader community.” The NYSED ESSA plan also emphasizes the goal of “promoting a relationship of trust, cultural responsiveness, and respect between schools and families, recognizing that student achievement and school improvement are shared responsibilities.”
The topic of chronic absenteeism raises many questions and initiates dialogue about several related topics. For example, home visits can be utilized as a method of building relationships with families to combat chronic absenteeism rather than as a punitive or disciplinary interaction. Look for CASDA to continue to present opportunities for practitioners to engage in substantive professional learning with colleagues on the topic of student mobility, student transitions and the impact of instability in a student’s personal life on their success. If there are topics of interest and concern to you that you would like CASDA to address through one of its many avenues for convening educators, please feel free to contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org.