Digging Deeper: Chronic Absenteeism in Delaware Schools

February 14th, 2019

Category: Digging Deeper

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: studentspecific, 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.

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.

Bridgette Boody