Oakland Schools Addressing Chronic Absence

School teams can join the Chronic Absence Working Session on Thursday, Sept 12. RSVP here: http://bit.ly/oakcore091219.

It’s hard to believe it’s already back to school season – where did the summer go? As thousands of kids return to school, or in my daughter’s case enter school for the first time, I’d like highlight the importance of attendance.

It turns out that showing up to school helps kids learn. Shocking, I know right. Of course, we can’t expect every kid to earn that perfect attendance award. As a parent of a three-year old and five-year old, I’m well aware that kids get sick, oh so very sick.

When kids are chronically absent – defined as missing 10% of the school year or about 18 days – the impact is undeniable. Chronically absent students are less likely to read on grade level in the 3rd grade, are more likely to dropout of high school, and are less likely to succeed in college.

For California, chronic absence is kind of a big issue. Specifically, 11 percent of kids in California were chronically absent during the 2017-18 school year (data for the 2018-19 school year is not yet publicly available). For context, that’s about 700,000 students, or more than the total population of Wyoming or Vermont. For California’s African-American kids, the percentage was nearly twice as high at 20 percent

The story in Oakland is even bleaker. In the 2018-18 school year, the overall chronic absence rate was 16 percent and for African-American students it was 25 percent. In other words, 1 out every 4 African-American kids in Oakland missed at least 10% of school days. Wait, what? I can’t believe I just typed that sentenced. And these kids aren’t just missing time to learn, but our schools are losing out on much needed funding

The good news is that there are Oakland schools doing great work to reduce chronic absence and improve overall attendance. In the Spring, I chatted with school leaders at Lazear Charter Academy (TK-8), LIFE Academy (6-12), and Roosevelt Middle School (6-8) to learn how each school is working to reduce chronic absence. Here is what I learned.

Teamwork Makes the Dream Work: It was not surprising to learn that all these schools have a dedicated team with a regular meeting schedule to support student attendance. It is almost too obvious that the more teachers and staff members who know what is going on, the more students and families can get support and issues can get addressed. The composition of the teams and the meeting frequently differs slightly across the schools, but each team has a consistent team with a regular schedule.

Data Driven: For all three schools, individual student data serves as the foundation for all attendance meetings. In particular, they pay specific attention to: students who are currently chronic absent and, students who are on the verge of becoming chronically absent. Looking at students who are close but not yet chronically absent is critical. It will be harder to help students catch up if they have already crossed that chronic absence threshold. An eye to prevention can go a long way. 

Engaging Families is Key: All three schools stress the importance of one-on-one communication with families from a person who has a strong relationship with the student. One of the school leaders described the ideal communicator as a “warm demander” or someone who can hold meaningful relationships with families and at the same time hold them to high expectations. I am sure that you can think of someone in your life who can play this role. Sometimes we all need a watchful eye to help us do what we know we need to. 

Celebrating Success: Positive reinforcement is a key lever for attendance. Each school has a public process for acknowledging kids that are meeting attendance expectations. Celebrations do not always have to focus on perfect attendance. It is also important to highlight kids that have improved their attendance. Recognizing effort when it comes to attendance is key – we need to show students and families that we see their work and improvement. 

Next Steps: 1) School teams can join us on Thursday, Sept 12 (RSVP here) to review beginning of the year attendance data and create an action plan to improve attendance. 2) Visit Attendance Works for more resources including a year-long planning calendar.