Digging Deeper: Chronic Absenteeism in Delaware Schools

February 14th, 2019

Author: Bridgette Boody

Ferris Bueller missed nine days of high school before he
took his infamous day off to roam the streets of Chicago. He’s certainly not
the only student to miss school, intended or not. At some point in many children’s
education careers, they may be absent due to a doctor’s appointment, family
emergency, or taking some time for themselves. But what happens when students
continue to miss school again and again?

that a student who is chronically absent—that is, absent for 10
percent of the school year—is less likely to graduate. One
found that too many absences in eighth grade can make a student eight
times more likely to fail in high school. For our youngest learners, missing
too much school time can mean
lower performance
in kindergarten and first grade. It’s also correlated to
poor social and emotional outcomes for students.

In the wake of the state’s new accountability
, Delaware has begun publicly reporting new data on chronic
absenteeism rates. The new system allows schools to earn up to 500 points. In
the new system, schools earn “points” for different performance measures,
everything from academic performance and graduation rates to college and career
preparedness and English proficiency, with a highest possible score of 500. The
points system is designed to help the public understand how schools are
performing in key areas and to identify where more supports are needed. Chronic
absenteeism (listed as On-Track Attendance) is worth only 50 points (10
percent) of the share.

Chronic absenteeism is one of measures included in the new
accountability system and is defined as the percentage of students with an excused
or unexcused, full day absence for any reason (illness, suspension, etc.) for
10 percent (about 18 days) of the school year. The public can view this data on
the recently released school report

From these data, we know that 14 percent of all Delaware students are chronically absent from school.

The data also show that more students with disabilities and
students from a low-income background miss school in comparison with the
average student, and by a significant margin—six percent more students who have
a disability are chronically absent, while seven percent more students who are
low-income also fall in that category.

The percentage of students who are chronically absent
differs by school district. Among the districts, chronic absenteeism rates
range from two percent to 19 percent of the student population.

There are numerous
factors at play when it comes to chronic absenteeism.

According to research from the Brookings
, there are four categories of school absence: student–specific, family-specific,
school-specific, and community-specific.

Student-specific reasons for missing school may include
factors like low academic performance and grade retention or “being held back,”
lack of caring relationships with adults, negative peer influence, and

Family-specific causes could be attributed to low family
income, low parent involvement to push a child to attend, at-home
responsibilities, stressful events that cause home and school priorities to
conflict with the other, and language differences.

At the school level, poor conditions or lack of necessary
school facilities, low-quality teachers or teacher shortages, poor
student-teacher relationships, student boredom from less challenging courses,
and geographic access to school also may impede a student’s ability to come to

Finally, students may miss more school for
community-specific reasons, such as the availability of job opportunities that
do not require formal schooling, unsafe neighborhoods, low compulsory education
requirements, and lack of social and education support services.

Schools can influence
of chronic absenteeism rates for the better

NEA research brief
tells us that while prevention of chronic absenteeism is
key, schools can also address this issue by:

the underlying cause for a student’s absence. If a student is experiencing
unstable housing or health care issues, the school can establish partnerships
with community-based organizations to help meet the needs the family.  Proactively
engage with parents. Consistentcommunication
with parents, texts, phone calls, and home visits may help encourage parents to
seek support to make sure their student isn’t missing too much school time.Using
existing resources and community-based programs to problem-solve. For
provide free tools to help educators by identifying patterns in
absences, examine root causes of those absences, and assess how their school is
engaging in practices design to combat chronic absenteeism. Safe Passage, a
project of Urban Peace Institute
,   can provide parents and students with resources
on safe ways to get to school and place adult monitors on streets and routes
around schools to help guide students to school.

For our younger learners, registering for kindergarten on
time is key to a good academic start and avoiding missing too much time due to
late registration. Delaware Readiness Teams help connect parents to the
information they need to register their kindergartener on time. See their “Get Ready for
checklist here. 

Delaware’s data on chronic absenteeism present a first step
in tackling the issue. Armed with new data, schools can begin to determine the
best solutions for their students so that everyone can be present and learning.
In order for students to get an education, they need to be in the classroom.

Digging Deeper: 5 Things to Know about Social Emotional Learning in Delaware

November 15th, 2018

Author: Rachel Wiggans Chan

In June, Rodel released A Broader Vision of Student Success, a statewide landscape analysis of social emotional learning (SEL). The report was a collaborative research effort, combining the insights and perspectives of students, families, educators, and community members with support from leaders and funders from across the state.
Let’s dig into a few of the key findings in the report to better understand Delaware’s social emotional learning landscape.

Educators see the value in SEL. There is clear demand for SEL, according to our survey of school and district leaders. With two out of three school and district leaders noting SEL as one of their top education priorities, there’s no denying that SEL is here to stay. This finding aligns the Rodel Teacher Council’s 2017 survey, which found that nine out of ten Delaware teachers agree that schools should place more emphasis on SEL. Read Educators Speak Up: Social and Emotional Learning in Delaware
And they understand that SEL impacts multiple aspects of student success. When asked why their schools implement SEL, school and district leaders indicated multiple, important benefits for students. While research has shown[1] that SEL can positively impact academic outcomes, educators in Delaware clearly understand that there are other aspects at stake—including furthering equitable student outcomes and improving school climate—and that SEL is an effective way to support students’ holistic development.
Delaware’s students and families also recognize the need for SEL. Our research team had conversations with students and families in all three Delaware counties, and in a variety of grade levels and types of schools. They heard clear messages of support for SEL:
Despite this support, schools have sometimes struggled to meaningfully involve families in SEL planning and/or implementation. While fewer than one in three school and district leaders surveyed identified family engagement as a key driver of successful SEL implementation, research indicates that families are crucial partners. Family support and connection to the development and implementation of SEL programs and initiatives will be critical to ensuring success. Over half of the SEL partners interviewed as part of this research see a strong need for schools and districts to partner with families to reinforce SEL skills.

To address this, educators need additional professional learning to address SEL implementation. While the majority of schools have provided some professional development or training to advance their SEL efforts, school and district leaders surveyed reported vast agreement that staff will need more training to adequately implement SEL.

We’re looking forward to hearing your insights and working with you to make the recommendations in the landscape analysis come alive for Delaware students, families, educators, and communities.
[1] “The Impact of Enhancing Students’ Social and Emotional Learning: A Meta-Analysis of School-Based Universal Interventions.” https://casel.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/01/meta-analysis-child-development-1.pdf

Digging Deeper: What’s the real value of work-based learning?

September 19th, 2018


Getting out of the classroom and onto a jobsite isn’t just a field trip. Studies show it can open college and career doors for students after high school, especially for low-income students.
National research indicates that by 2020, around 65 percent of the family-sustaining jobs in Delaware will require at least some education beyond high school. Today, less than 60 percent of our 25-year-olds have that level of training.  
Today in Delaware, state-model career pathways are opening doors for more students than ever. Thousands of high schoolers are earning early college credits. And thanks to a $3.25 million investment from Bloomberg Philanthropies, even more pathways and  opportunities are coming.   
Technical skills are great (and essential). But as anyone who’s ever worked in a professional setting can tell you—the so-called “soft skills” or employability skills are just as important.  
That’s why Delaware is investing part of the grant money into the state’s first ever work-based learning course, an elective class for high schoolers that teaches things like communication, teamwork, and even dressing professionally—the sorts of skills that can be applied across industries and workplace settings. The class also comes with opportunities for  internships with Delaware employers. 
So how important are the soft skills? Opinions differ, but research from America Achieves shows that employers think they’re essential—and hard to find—in new hires.  
So, what exactly is work-based learning?  
Work-based learning can span from middle to high school. Career awareness begins in the early years and evolves into more clearly defined paths toward career goals, targeted curriculum, and, eventually, firsthand experiences like job shadowing or career coaching. During high school, students immerse themselves into a career area of their choice through internship or apprenticeship, among other options. 
Work-based learning (WBL) offers students a chance to make more informed choices about careers before they get to college. Here’s why that matters: 
It increases the chance of students getting education after high school.
A seven-year study of one California work-based learning program revealed that students who completed a WBL program entered college at double the rate of non-participating students.  
It can increase the chances of low-income students accessing career prep.
One national study found disproportionately higher employment rates among teens from families that earn over $120,000 compared to youth from households where income is below  $40,000. 
Work-based learning provides students with the skills and competencies they need to one day become a computer engineer, or a registered nurse, for example. But it also helps build connections between K-12 schools, colleges, and local industries. And employers can often benefit from bringing young people’s energy, tech savvy, creativity, and innovative ideas to the table. 
Who’s doing it? 
Colorado began its work-based learning incubator in 2017, in collaboration with the Departments of Education and Labor, local colleges, and the Colorado Workforce Development Council. Tennessee’s work-based learning initiative uses the course as an option to fulfill high school graduation requirements.  
National organizations such as YearUp (which recently opened a  Wilmington branch), and local outfits like YouthForce NOLA in New Orleans use work-based learning models to close opportunity gaps for low-income students and young adults by offering career skills development. 
WBL in Delaware  
Delaware has been lauded as a national model for its postsecondary prep efforts, having successfully launched a career pathways system where students can access  credit-bearing career prep coursework.  
This fall, we’ll see the launch of the new Healthcare Industry Council. Industry Councils are a network and platform that allows employers to inform the development of the work-based learning course, keep the broader industry, students, educators and the community abreast of changing industry trends, and gather industry feedback on the development of work-based learning and engagement with high schools.  
A new career pathway dedicated to Patient Care also launched this fall, and by  next spring, Delaware will kick-off its first work-based learning course in some high schools.  
The Office of Work-based Learning (OWBL), based in Delaware Technical Community College, will serve as Delaware’s intermediary between schools and employers, providing opportunities for engagement and interaction. OWBL facilitates employers connecting with schools through activities like classroom visits, job fairs, and internships, and will facilitate engagement between employers and schools through toolkits and similar resources.  
Work-based learning is made for students, but employers are an essential piece of the puzzle. 
Research and student outcomes show that work-based learning is a necessity for students and employers alike. Both groups benefit when classroom content is relevant and up-to-date with the latest industry trends.  And when employers plug directly into schools, they can help dictate exactly which skills (both technical and soft)  their future employees need.  = 
Want to learn more? Educators, advocates, and employers should register for the 11th Annual Vision Coalition and University of Delaware Conference, on October 11th. Hear from diverse Delaware voices —including DelTech’s Paul Morris and Christiana Care’s Dana Beckton on some amazing collaborations from the world of work-based learning.

Digging Deeper: Options Slim for Student Mental Health Supports

June 27th, 2018

Author: Rachel Wiggans Chan

As young people in Delaware report more and more signs of mental health issues, their options for dedicated help and support remain slim.
Rodel and a team of researchers just conducted a statewide landscape analysis of social and emotional learning (SEL) in Delaware. The report highlights promising practices and areas for potential growth as state leaders and educators look to serve all Delaware students in a more holistic way, with greater emphasis on their mental and emotional wellbeing to ensure they grow into  healthy, productive, citizens.
One area that emerged as an area for continued development was around collaboration between education and other sectors that serve students and families. The report states, “Students are typically in school for six to eight hours a day and spend the remainder of their time at home or in their communities. Schools operate within a broad system of supports that are part of students’ lives, and connecting those supports can magnify their collective impact. Delaware educators crave opportunities to collaborate with their peers, district and school leaders, and SEL partners.”
A clear area for improvement: supporting students’ mental health needs.

The need is particularly acute for students with severe mental health needs, who often require specialized care. Delaware has only one mental health facility statewide—MeadowWood—that admits adolescents for residential treatment. And whenever the facility is at capacity, new patients need to find another provider for their treatment, meaning families occasionally must make the difficult choice to send their child out-of-state for treatment.
This type of decision makes a stressful situation even more challenging for families, students, and educators. If a family chooses to keep their student at home rather than send him or her out-of-state, local schools may not be prepared to provide the specialized care that the student needs and deserves. As one Delaware district leader told researchers, “The concern is what happens to the students who exceed the parameters of what our programs can provide to them. We’ve lost out by not having day treatment centers. It’s analogous to a serious physical issue.”
Students who don’t feel safe at school often experience challenges with attendance, academics and mental health. Safe, supportive school environments, where students have positive relationships with peers and adults and feel a true sense of belonging, strengthen student engagement.
In Delaware around 85 percent of elementary school students report feeling happy at school, while only 61 percent of high schoolers did, according to the Delaware School Climate Survey. Meanwhile, 23 percent of Delaware children have experienced two or more Adverse Childhood Experiences (or ACEs) that include physical, sexual, or emotional abuse or neglect, substance misuse or violence in the household, parental divorce, among others.

But these statistics are counterbalanced by promising emerging evidence that indicates students with stronger SEL skills are more likely to have positive long-term life outcomes, including staying out of jail, avoiding substance abuse, and having stronger mental health.
So, how can Delaware ensure that all our kids have access to the supports they need to develop their SEL skills? There are many partners in Delaware already working to support this work, but one finding of our research study found that addressing these issues will require deeper collaboration between schools and other community partners. Thankfully, there are some strong examples of school and community partnership underway in Delaware.
Some social service and healthcare partnerships provide services to students school campuses. The Delaware Association for the Education of Young Children (deaeyc) is currently implementing a grant from the Kellogg Foundation to place Family Service Advocates in early learning centers to connect families to social services and other community assets. The Compassionate Schools Learning Collaborative has trained over 2,000 Delaware educators on SEL and trauma-informed care. Children and Families First of Delaware partners with social services and healthcare to address student needs on school campuses. Freire Charter School and Christiana Care have partnered to provide family therapy services to students and families as needed, at no cost to families. There also are several initiatives underway in cities and states nationwide where rich, strategic partnerships between schools and community organizations support students and families with necessary social service and healthcare, which could point to possible next steps for Delaware. For example:

The Partnership for Resilience, a collaborative of education and healthcare partners in Illinois, aims to integrate health, education, and community partners to support the whole child. They build sustainable community partnerships; create resources, trainings, and education programs; and advocate for research-based policies that further their mission.
Every student in kindergarten through eighth grade in Salem, Massachusetts has an individual success plan, which weaves in-school and out-of-school strategies to support the needs and goals of each student.
A partnership between DC Prep and Children’s National Hospital in Washington, D.C. has set up a mental health center directly within two schools, bringing a multi-disciplinary team of mental health professionals to provide a wide range of services.

These examples and promising practices from across Delaware and the country offer insights into how to best serve students and families and how our community partners and schools can continue to work together.