Thursday, October 20, 2016

High rates of absenteeism and suspensions in California elementary schools

The fourth annual statewide report on elementary school truancy and chronic absenteeism in California, In School + On Track 2016 finds that an estimated 210,000 K-5 students in California missed 10% of the school year in 2015-2016, making up 7.3% of elementary students in the state.

The report also confirms earlier research on the disproportionately high rates of absenteeism among African American, Native American, and Pacific Islander elementary school students, special education students, and foster and homeless youth.  The report does highlight that significant progress is being made, with school districts increasingly taking action to ensure children are in school, on time, every day.

Drawing from four years of longitudinal data—a sample of almost half a million kindergarten to 5th grade students from nearly 200 school districts—In School + on Track 2016 includes the most comprehensive analysis to-date on the high rates of absenteeism among California’s elementary school students. The report finds that California continues to face an attendance crisis, with an estimated 210,000 K-5 students missing 10% of the 2015-16 school year, and that this crisis disproportionately affects African American, low-income, special education, and highly mobile students.

School suspensions also severely exacerbate the attendance crisis and have an inordinate impact on boys, low-income students, and students with special needs. In fact, 55% of students in this study who had more than one suspension were also chronically absent. Low-income students accounted for 82% of all suspensions and 30% of all suspensions involved students receiving special education services. Further, boys were suspended at three times the rate of girls, and foster children were suspended at two and a half times the rate of all other students. The report also finds that African American students, while making up just 5% of the elementary school student population, represent 22% of all suspensions.

Early attendance patterns also have a significant impact on academic achievement. The data from this year’s report revealed that three-quarters of students who were chronically absent in kindergarten and first grade did not meet the California state standards in math and English language arts in the third grade.

Despite persistently high rates of absenteeism and suspensions, however, California school districts have taken significant steps to improve elementary school attendance over the past several years:
  • 99% of districts surveyed for this study reported that they have implemented or plan to implement policies and programs to improve elementary school attendance this year.
  • In the 2012-13 school year, just over half of school districts surveyed said that they tracked student attendance data longitudinally (over time). This year, 85% of districts reported that they track attendance longitudinally, allowing teachers and administrators to understand individual student attendance patterns, craft targeted interventions, and evaluate the success of those interventions.
  • Since the 2013-14 school year, 163 school districts (34% of those surveyed) have changed their discipline policies so students do not miss as much school for suspensions, or have reduced their overall number of suspensions.
The report is available in its entirety online at:

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