Under the Federal No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB) and the previous Oklahoma A-F school report card system, schools were held accountable for a 95% student attendance rate. This rate is calculated by measuring the average number of students who attend school on any given day. Currently, schools and districts will be held accountable for a different indicator under Everyone Schools Succeeds Act or ESSA. While the 95% attendance rate certainly made schools focus on the number of students that showed up each day, it failed to draw any attention, or offer help, to the number of students that are chronically absent. ESSA will focus on chronic absenteeism, or students that miss 10% or more days of school, for any reason, in a given school year.
Chronic absenteeism is different than truancy. Students are considered truant if their absences are unexcused. Chronic absenteeism includes all absences whether they are excused or unexcused as students are missing instruction and opportunities regardless of how the absence is recorded.
According to the U.S. Department of Education Office for Civil Rights, the 2013-14 data collection indicates that 13% of students miss 15 or more school days per year. Various states and districts experience much higher rates. During the 2016 – 2017 school year, 11% of Tahlequah Public Schools student populations missed 10 % or more days of school. While this is below our nation’s overall 13%, we are still concerned about the number of children in our community that are chronically absent and at risk of failing or dropping out of school before graduation.
Research on this topic by Anita Lightcap, Executive Director of Special Programs and Elementary Education found many published articles and data correlating student success, graduation rate and the long term negative implications of chronic absenteeism. For example, students that experience chronic early absenteeism in kindergarten have the lowest academic performance in first grade and experience the lowest reading performance by third grade. According to The National Center for Children in Poverty, poor students with chronic absences in kindergarten had the lowest performance in reading and math in fifth grade. High school and middle school age students that are chronically absent have a much higher dropout rate.
Being present in school contributes to current and future success and reduces the potential detrimental impact and negative habits that may be developed by being chronically absent. Tahlequah Public Schools is currently reaching out to families with phone calls and letters to inform them of students’ absences. Our desire is to work with families to help remove any barriers that may be causing absences whether chronic or occasional. If you or someone you know is struggling to get students to school, please call your school counselor or (918) 458-4100 for assistance.