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 other reasons. But what happens when students continue to miss school again and again?

Studies show that a student who is chronically absent—that is, absent for 10 percent of the school year—is less likely to graduate. One study 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 system, 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 cards.

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 Institute, 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 bullying.

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 school.

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

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

Identifying 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 example:

Attendance Works 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 Kindergarten” 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.

Blazing the Pathway on College and Career: Q&A with Paul Morris

October 2nd, 2018

Author: Matt Amis

Paul Morris is on the forefront of a slate of college-and-career efforts across Delaware, bringing his expertise on employer partnerships at the postsecondary to the K-12 world.
We talked to the associate vice president for workforce development at Delaware Tech about his very busy school year ahead.
Everyone knows about Delaware Technical Community College and the great things you guys provide in terms of career training for high school grads or adults continuing their education. But when did this notion of getting to kids while they’re still in high school first enter your radar?
Delaware Tech has been engaging school-aged youth for over 40 years in Delaware. The college has hosted numerous federal programs such as Upward Bound and Educational Talent Search, serving thousands of middle and high school students during that time period. We also interact with approximately 1,500 to 2,000 youth each summer and throughout the school year through our career, specialty, and sports camps. Lastly, over the past 10 years, we have partnered with all f the school districts within Delaware offering dual enrollment opportunities for students looking to earn college credits while in high school.
And what, specifically, is your role in Pathways and/or work-based learning?
Delaware Tech has been a key member of the Delaware Pathways team since its inception four years ago. Our high school advanced manufacturing program was the first pathway offered and was the model for the other pathways as it offered advanced college credits, meaningful work-based learning experiences, and portable credentials.
Delaware Tech is connected to every pathway currently offered through Delaware Pathways. Additionally, due to the college’s history with engaging and supporting employers in Delaware, we were chosen to perform the duties of intermediary for work-based learning from the onset. Within this role, we are responsible for operating the Office of Work-Based Learning, which engages employers, schools, and students to develop and deliver a continuum of work-based learning activities for students from seventh grade through the first two years of postsecondary education. The ultimate goal of these activities is to ensure our youth are both college and career ready upon graduation.
Why do you think Pathways has taken off in Delaware the way that it has?
Pathways meets two important but specific needs. First, it provides secondary school students with the opportunity to become both college and career ready upon graduation. Students have many opportunities through the program to engage with employers and professionals within their chosen career field to better prepare them for the workforce. Second, Pathways creates an employer engagement structure so that employers understand the benefits and can easily connect with qualified students who have an interest in their specific career area.
What are some of your favorite Pathways success stories you like to tell?
My favorite success story is about a young man named “Joe.” He came from a blue collar middle class family from New Castle. He was a superstar in the manufacturing program from day one. He excelled in the hands-on portion of the program and wanted to transition into working within the manufacturing industry upon graduation. Joe had a couple of opportunities for work once he graduated, but chose to accept an unpaid internship at a local company that he desired to work at long term. He did such a great job with that internship that the company offered him a contracting position. Due to his work ethic and long-term vision, he continued to excel and was recently hired directly by the company. He is doing great and is planning to continue his studies in a post-secondary program in his field.

There are a lot of efforts unfolding in the college and career-prep world. What are you most excited about here at the start of a new school year?
I’m most excited about the work we are doing within the Office of Work-Based Learning. We are building the framework so that thousands of Delaware students will have the opportunity to participate in meaningful work-based learning activities. These activities will range from awareness activities like visiting a company on a structured tour to immersion activities like a paid internship. These activities will assist students in making college and career decisions upon graduation. They will provide students with documented work experience to inform their resumes. These activities will also help Delaware companies build a much-needed pipeline of trained workers for the future.
What are Industry Councils and what will they do/accomplish?
Industry Councils are groups of individuals representing a specific industry convened to inform the educational and business communities on the trends, needs, and partnership opportunities within the industry. Typically, a council will have an executive committee that will meet quarterly and create sub-committees as needed. The executive committee will hold an annual public meeting where they will go over their annual report and engage with members of the public.
You get to engage with all sides of the equation, so to speak. What’s your go-to selling point for employers when it comes to WBL? How about for parents or high school students?
Engaging and partnering with Delaware Pathways and the Office of Work-Based Learning is a key strategy in building a sustainable pipeline of future trained workers. These types of partnerships allow companies to inform curriculum, build relationships with students, and develop working relationships with educational and training providers. Employers will have the ability to create a specific pipeline that will feed their hiring needs in the future.
Participating within Delaware Pathways and specifically work-based learning activities is a no-brainer for students. They will graduate high school with a defined career path and valuable work experience within their chosen industry. They will have an opportunity to earn industry- recognized credentials, college credits, and build work readiness and soft skills that will further enhance their ability to enter the workforce after graduation. Our ultimate goal is to ensure students are both college and career ready upon graduation.
Let’s say I’m a business owner and I’m interested. What do I do? What’s my first step?
The first step is to contact the Office of Work-Based Learning at:
The Office of Work-Based Learning
(302) 857-1651

Discovering Passion Projects through Dual School: Interview with Stephanie Diggins

September 21st, 2018


Dual School, a pilot initiative modeled after High Tech High in California, is becoming a phenomenon in Delaware. This innovative and empowering program exemplifies “learning by doing.”
Instead of lectures and worksheets, students spend a semester digging in on a problem plaguing their community (or the world at large) from immigration to increasing financial literacy among youth. More importantly, students are encouraged to test solutions to their problem.
With a combination of independent research, mentorship, and the space to work on projects they care about, Dual School provides students with the agency to drive their own learning and acquire the skills needed to solve tomorrow’s problems.
You can find Dual School at two locations in Delaware: 1313 Innovation and William Penn High School (WP).
Our very own Rodel Teacher Council member, Stephanie Diggins, will be teaching the Dual School course this year at WP. We caught up with Stephanie while she was setting up her classroom and talked with her about this novel opportunity.

1) Can you explain what Dual School will look like at WP?
My students will participate in the Dual School course for a full school year (August – June). The students participating had to apply for the course and those accepted will receive credits toward their diploma.
Dual School’s model stresses the importance of providing a space where students can work on projects they care about.

During the first semester, my students will begin brainstorming and selecting their project or issue area. Once they’ve selected, we’ll match them with a mentor and various community leaders that can offer real-world insights into the project or issue area they are trying to solve.
And throughout the second semester, my students will build out and execute on their project in various ways such as running workshops, creating physical prototypes, and/or developing websites. My students will also exhibit their projects at two large-scale exhibitions during the school year.
2) How will this course improve the lives of your students?
Dual School is a perfect example of project-based learning. It allows my students to develop deep content knowledge as well as critical thinking, creativity, and communication skills in the context of doing an authentic, meaningful project. My students will be able to build on the skills they are learning in their classes and apply them to other areas.

This process is all very similar to what is experienced at a job or in college. Dual School will definitely prepare them for whatever path they choose after they graduate from WP.
3) Dual School is relatively new to Delaware. Prior to this opportunity, did you know about them?
Yes, I attended the final exhibition of the first cohort earlier this year. It was cool to see what the students had done for their projects. I remember there were projects on issues like mental health in schools and the tampon tax. One student even coded a website that I was so impressed by and wanted to use in my classroom.
4) After seeing the results of the first cohort, what are you most looking forward to when it comes to teaching the new Dual School class at WP?
Dual School students often work independently and in an environment that does not look like a traditional classroom. So, I am excited to see how teaching this course differs from teaching my other courses. I will not be standing in front of the class lecturing or assigning worksheets but rather having my students tell me what they need and supporting them along their project plans.
5) Sounds like you’re going to have to be flexible. What have you done to prepare for teaching this Dual School course?
Recently, I attended a professional development training hosted by Dual School and Blue Dot Education. The training covered project-based learning, which is what my Dual School students will be experiencing and I will be teaching. At the training, the facilitators asked us to build a rocket out of random materials. This assignment gave us a taste of project-based learning from a student’s perspective.

Our first rocket launch failed spectacularly but the experience was one of the most valuable I’ve ever had. We deconstructed the project, process, even the role of the facilitators. We then were able to implement the feedback and our rocket launched successfully. Check it out here!
6) Is there anything else you would like others to know about the upcoming Dual School initiative?
We need mentors for my students! Mentors can choose a day of the week from 9:00 a.m. – 10:30 a.m. to visit our classroom and advise a student working on a topic related to their work. It’s a great opportunity for both the student and mentor. Interested in becoming a Dual School mentor? Fill out an application here.

Stephanie Diggins is a Teacher Academy and Theatre Teacher at William Penn High School in New Castle, Delaware. She is currently serving her second term on the Rodel Teacher Council.

A Big Step Forward for the Rodel Teacher Council

July 30th, 2018


It was a banner year for the Rodel Teacher Council (RTC). In previous years, we conducted some pretty serious research on personalized learning, and then took our knowledge and turned it into informative briefs, reports, and even workshops for our fellow teachers.
This year was different. We wanted to turn our expertise into action; good ideas and best practices into concrete policy. And that’s just what we did. We started by asking some critical questions: How should I respond to a student demonstrating effects of trauma? Where can I access professional development that’s more engaging and relevant to my classroom needs? Will our school’s internet crash during our state testing tomorrow? Then we went about tackling concrete answers.
Read on below for recaps of the four RTC working groups. We did our best to summarize the teachers’ incredible work, but we still didn’t fully capture all the time, energy, and focus our colleagues  poured into every meeting, every strategy session, every important decision. In short, the RTC changed the game this year. Teachers impacted policy decisions in a more direct way than we ever imagined. Our teachers exemplified the belief that collective voices can lead to meaningful action and significant results.

Broadband Connectivity

Karen Eller, Stubbs Elementary School
Stephanie Diggins, William Penn High School
Joyce Lester, Bayard Middle School
Michael Paoli, Hodgson Vocational Technical High School

THE PROBLEM: Many Delaware schools still struggle to provide students with digital learning experiences.
In 2015, state agencies acknowledged these challenges and the need to have a regular assessment of school infrastructure, yet no action has been taken, so we don’t have a clear picture of where the needs exist.

“As Delaware educators, we fully understand the value of technology in education. Technology pervades our daily lives and routines—especially for young people—and its supposed to make our classrooms more streamlined and engaging—but it isn’t always that simple.”-RODEL TEACHER COUNCIL BROADBAND WORKING GROUP

OUR GOAL: Pass a policy during this year’s legislative session that will require the Delaware Department of Education (DDOE) and Department of Technology and Information (DTI) to conduct and publish an annual review of school level broadband.
THE RESULTS: After months of advocating, the legislature passed the policy we developed and soon the DDOE and DTI will release the first annual review stating where additional broadband is needed in districts and schools.
READ: RTC Advances Efforts to Upgrade Broadband Infrastructure in Delaware Schools

Social and Emotional Learning

Sherlynn Aurelio (retired), Harry O. Eisenberg Elementary School
Lyndsey Cook, Kent County Community School
Kevin Lair, Freire Charter School of Wilmington
Lindsay Hudson-Hubbs, Woodbridge Early Childhood Education Center
Lori Nichols, Brandywine Springs School
Stephanie Alexander, Southern Elementary

THE PROBLEM: Educators recognize the importance of developing the whole child—not just their English and math skills, but their ability to communicate, collaborate, and empathize.
But teachers need tools and structures—in the form of a common framework and competencies—to better support students’ social and emotional learning.
OUR GOAL: Kickstart the process for statewide adoption of SEL learning goals and competencies.
THE RESULTS: We not only met our goal by building partnerships with CASEL, Capital School District, the UD Positive Behavior Support team, and others to launch a planning process to develop a state framework, but we’re also proud to share Creating a Common Language for Social and Emotional Learning in Delaware, a resource for those interested in developing SEL policies and competencies for Delaware.

“I am so impressed with the thoughtful approach Delaware has taken with SEL, with multiple constituents coming together around this. I see Delaware as so far ahead of other states in terms of all of the resources you’ve created, the thoughtful framing and thinking that you’ve already done. I see you as ready for this work and really excited to see the plan that you develop.“LINDA DUSENBERY, COLLABORATIVE FOR ACADEMIC, SOCIAL, AND EMOTIONAL LEARNING (CASEL)

We knew that local people (including teachers and parents) and local priorities should drive our work, so we began assembling a Delaware SEL collaborative of districts and other partners (such as the DDOE and its Positive Behavior Support project) who were interested in working together on a common language for SEL, including frameworks, communications, and competencies. ​

That collaboration led to Creating a Common Language for Social and Emotional Learning in Delaware, a shared resource for those interested in developing SEL policies and competencies for Delaware.
What’s next? We’re working with partners now to develop a formal request for assistance from CASEL, which we plan to submit later this summer. By fall, we plan to formally kickoff a Delaware SEL collaborative that will undertake the work of developing a common language for SEL.
READ: Creating A Common Language for Social and Emotional Learning in Delaware

Personalized Professional Development

Lisa Mims, Pleasantville Elementary School
Jessica Inskeep, Forest Oak Elementary School
Tim Brewer, Hodgson Vocational Technical High School
Kendra Rosner-Moritz, John S. Charlton School Program
Kimberly Neal, Brandywine High School

THE PROBLEM: Professional development offerings for educators are not flexible, engaging, or specific. In order for us to effectively implement personalized instruction for our students, a parallel system of personalized professional development must also exist.
READ: Personalized Professional Development
OUR GOALS: Change the state’s education regulations to give educators the option of receiving professional development hours through the use of microcredentials.
Microcredentials are focused, competency-based units of study that outline how educators can demonstrate that they have mastered a very particular concept or skill.

“There is a trend now for personalized learning for our students. We want to mke sure we are as close as possible to giving each student what he or she needs to succeed. Yet, teachers are forced to take “one size fits all” Professional Development, regardless of their needs. This needs to stop. Teachers need to take ownership of their Professional Development. They need to make decisions on where and what they need in order to have a greater positive impact in their classrooms.“-RODEL TEACHER COUNCIL BROADBAND WORKING GROUP

THE RESULTS: Throughout the term, members of our working group completed microcredential courses—on topics ranging from writing publicly to influence policymakers to communicating with families using data—and met with representatives at DDOE and DSEA to share our reflections and policy suggestions.
In the fall, we’ll continue our advocacy efforts by presenting to the Professional Development and Associated Compensation (PDAC) committee, which is convened by the Professional Standards Board (PSB). These groups are currently considering measures to approve microcredentials for Delaware teachers.

Competency-Based Learning

Robyn Howton, Mount Pleasant High school
Kate Bowski, Milton Elementary School
Cheryl Jones, First State Montessori Academy
Jared Lelito, Fred Fifer III Middle School

THE PROBLEM: Competency-based learning (CBL) ties a student’s advancement through school to demonstrated proficiency, rather than an average grade covering a range of topics. It’s already happening in some Delaware schools.
But CBL is a significant change to grading and reporting, and many wonder about competency-based learning transcripts, and whether colleges or universities will accept them in the admissions process. This lack of clarity may hinder schools and districts from implementing a competency-based learning model.
READ: FAQs on Competency-Based Learning and Transcripts
OUR GOALS: To get every college and university in Delaware to sign onto a letter indicating that they will accept competency-based transcripts from Delaware high school students starting in the class of 2019.​
THE RESULTS: We met with admissions representatives from every college in the state. They all told us the same thing: They receive applications from all around the world, including from home school students, international students, and students in competency-based models. They were more than happy to put that in writing for us.

“We accept a wide variety of transcripts as long as they meet our stated admissions requirements and provide a full and accurate presentation of what the applicant has learned and accomplished. Competency-based, proficiency-based, or standards-based transcripts can provide us with everything we need and do not disadvantage applicants in any way.“DOUG ZANDER, EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR OF ADMISSIONS, UNIVERSITY OF DELAWARE

READ: Mastering the Art of Competency-Based Learning: Q&A with KnowledgeWorks

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