Why Does It Matter?
Research indicates that regular school attendance is associated with student achievement. When students are chronically absent (missing 10% or more of school for any reason - unexcused and excused), they miss out on learning opportunities critical to school success. According to Attendance Works, a national initiative focused on promoting regular school attendance: "Absenteeism and its ill effects start early. Nationally, one in 10 kindergarten and first grade students are chronically absent. Poor attendance can influence whether children read proficiently by the end of 3rd grade. By 6th grade, chronic absence becomes a leading indicator that a student will drop out of high school. Low income students are four times more likely to be chronically absent than others often for reasons beyond their control, such as unstable housing, unreliable transportation and a lack of access to health care."
The attendance rate in Santa Fe Public Schools has been below the state average with a relatively flat trend in the recent years. The chronic absenteeism and habitual truancy rates (10 or more unexcused absences within a year) are also alarmingly high, particularly in high school, where more than one in three students are habitually truant and chronically absent.
However, Santa Fe Public Schools has made significant efforts to address its attendance issues with the launch of the district-wide Mission Attendance initiative a few years ago.
Chronic absences declined slightly from 30.6% in 2014-14 school year to 27.9% in 2014-15 (as of May 21, 2015). The rate decreased in all grades except for in 8th grade. The decline was particularly substantial in 6th grade where the rate decreased by half from 18% to 9%.
Habitual Truancy Rates Improve for Elementary and Middle Schools But NOT High School. Approximately 24% of students in Santa Fe Public Schools were habitually truant in the 2014-15 school year, significantly higher than the state's 14.3%. The overall rate has improved over the past few years for Elementary School and Middle School. However, the truancy issue is particularly prevalent in High School where 34%, or 1 in 3 students, had 10 or more unexcused absences in the 2014-2015 school year with no improvement in the past few years.
What Would It Take?
Santa Fe Public School District has recently set a 95% attendance rate target, a near 4 percentage point increase compared to 91.1% in 2014-15 school year. As part of the Mission Attendance initiative, the District has implemented a comprehensive strategy led by Truancy Taskforce, including an early warning system with rigorous data tracking, a strict attendance policy with parent engagement and follow-ups on absences, placement of "Truancy Coaches" in priority schools with NM PED grant and, in the worst cases, involvement of the Juvenile Probation Office or court-ordered compliance requirements to work out critical concerns.
But, improving attendance, especially reducing chronic absences, requires broad, community-wide support beyond school-enforced rules and interventions. Many of our community partners recognize this need and a number of early efforts are underway to help raise awareness of the importance of attendance, as well as to help remove barriers for students who are chronically absent (see this blog article highlighting relationship-based support for students and families by Communities in Schools). Santa Fe Birth to Career is currently also working with the Santa Fe Public Schools, Santa Fe Chamber of Commerce, and New Mexico PBS on a public awareness campaign which will include posters and information in school as well as social media campaigns driven by student participation.
Visit Attendance Works to read the report released by Attendance Works and Everyone Graduates, Preventing Missed Opportunities: Taking Collective Action to Confront Chronic Absence to learn more about how we can all play a role and work together to ensure that our students attend school regularly and have a better chance at success.
Do you have success stories and strategies to share? Contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org or post a comment below.
Sources: Attendance Works, SFPS, NM PED