Truancy and chronic absence persist in California elementary schools
September 16, 2015
• Nearly a quarter million chronically absent
• “Elementary school truancy has sweeping implications for our state’s economy”
California still faces a crisis in school attendance with 230,000 California elementary school students chronically absent – missing more than 10 percent of the school year – and with more than one in five who are truant, having three or more unexcused absences, according to a new report released Wednesday by state Attorney General Kamala Harris.
The report also finds that progress was made in the past year in increasing awareness of the importance of attendance within school districts, tracking attendance year over year, and rethinking discipline policies that remove students from the classroom.
“Elementary school truancy has sweeping implications for our state’s economy and public safety,” says Ms. Harris. "When our youngest students are missing more than 10 percent of the school year, we know that they often fall behind and never catch up. This report shows that we are making progress, but we must do more to keep our children in school.”
California’s truancy problem is particularly stark in the earliest grades. According to the report, nearly 15 percent of kindergarteners are chronically absent (missing more than 10 percent of the school year) and the kindergarten truancy rate for the past year neared 30 percent. Chronic absence rates for Native American and African American students were almost 30 percent in kindergarten.
These figures have long-term repercussions, the report says, as 83 percent percent of students who are chronically absent in kindergarten and first grade will not read proficiently in third grade and will therefore be four times more likely to drop out of high school.
In addition, racial and income disparities persist beyond kindergarten and throughout elementary school: Close to 20 percent of African American and Native American students are chronically absent, and over 75 percent of the students who are chronically absent are low-income.
African American elementary school students are four times more likely to be suspended than white students. Overall, elementary school students in California missed an estimated 110,000 days of school due to suspensions alone.
Since last year’s report was issued, however, school districts have made improvement, the report says:
• Over 95 percent of districts reported that they have made changes to policies and programs to improve attendance, or plan to do so for the 2015-2016 school year.
• More than 60 percent of districts cited increased awareness as a reason for changes in their attendance programs.
• There has been a 10 percent increase in districts collecting and monitoring attendance data longitudinally (year over year) since last year’s report (from 72 percent to 82 percent).
• For the past two years, 25 percent of districts each year have changed policies so that students would miss less time in school for suspensions.
Despite progress at the individual district level in monitoring and tracking attendance, the report points out that California still lacks a statewide longitudinal system for tracking student attendance and chronic absenteeism.