Recently one of my colleagues wrote about Why She Blogs and the many things she has learned through this amazing Professional Development opportunity. One of the things that I have gained is a joy for Professional Development in Social Media. As a Washington State Teacher Leader (#WATeachLead) I have been introduced to the wonderful world of Twitter (@Brecek24). I have had some of the best educationally focused conversations with my blogging and tweeting colleagues that have challenged me in my beliefs as an educator. While many people prefer living in a safe bubble and never having their ideas questioned, I am at the point in my career where I want to be challenged and have the tough conversations.
Just last week (as of the writing of this) I was having a great twitter conversation about the issue of chronic absenteeism (defined as a student who misses 15 or more days in a school year) in Washington State and the idea of seat time as a credit requirement. As one colleague phrased it “These are the conversations that distinguished teachers have.” The conversation stemmed from a recent publication that chronic absenteeism is the best fifth indicator of student success under the Every Student Succeeds Act. This conversation opened my eyes to a statewide epidemic and prompted me to start searching for reasons why Washington and Oregon are amongst the highest in chronic absenteeism.
While there isn’t one clear cut reason why we have such a high rate of chronic absenteeism compared to other states, my research has pointed to two main reasons why this is an issue:
- According to a report done by the healthy schools campaign acute illness is the leading reason why students miss school. The CDC estimates that between 5% and 20% of the population will get the flu at one point during the year. Pile on top of that the increase in the number of students who are caretakers for their younger siblings and you can see that absences due to illness can pile up quickly for students.
- Lack of a connection to school is also a major issue. Consider the relative differences in race: compared to their white peers, the groups with the highest rates of chronic absenteeism — American Indian and Pacific Islander students — are each over 65 percent more likely to lose three weeks of school or more, black students 36 percent more likely, and Hispanic students 11 percent more likely.
There are things that can be done to remedy some of the attendance issues that are occurring in schools.
- Make attendance a focus of your building. A few years ago Grand Rapids, MI had a major attendance issue; by simply bringing focus to the issue they managed to cut the chronic absenteeism down by over 3,600 students. At Rogers High School, we had a major issue with students leaving during our open lunch period and not returning. Along with making attendance a focus to students and the community we also implemented a closed campus for freshmen and sophomores and instituted a lunch license for juniors and seniors. The lunch license can only be obtained by having a 95% attendance rate with no more than 2 tardies. Each month those passes are given out and those students are rewarded with the ability to leave campus for lunch
- All students need to have a reason to come to school. It could be a club or sport they participate in, a class they love, or a staff member they create a bond with; but there needs to be a connection made with school. Analyzing state data shows that less than 1% of teachers are American Indian or Pacific Islander, 1.2% are black, and 3.9% are Hispanic; it becomes difficult for students to find a staff member that looks like them to relate to. At Rogers we have hired Achievement Gap Intervention Specialists (AGIS) to work and build connections with students of color. This program, similar to My Brother’s Keeper, has been terrific at giving students the opportunity to have a mentor that looks like them at school.
- The freshman year is a very important year for many reasons so we created a group of teachers and staff to specifically work with freshmen during that middle school to high school transition. Data shows that students who get connected into school as a freshman are more likely to attend school and graduate on time. Make that freshman year a focus and do all you can to get those students involved in a club or activity and connected with a staff member early on.
While these are all great steps to reducing the problem, it is near impossible to completely eliminate the issue. As a teacher I do what I can to work with the student who may miss school regardless of his/her reason. I’ve created a website that hosts all of my notes and assignments; supplied students with links to videos such as Khan Academy, Virtual Nerd, and even created videos specific for my classes and posted them to YouTube; and created plans to help students stay on-track in my class. I understand that there are times when the absences are beyond a students’ control.
During the twitter conversation I shared a story of a young man that missed 37 days of my class a couple years ago. In terms of his understanding of the content, he was at the top of his class thanks in large part to the accommodations made for him. The question of seat time was brought up and the idea of docking his grade due to absences was suggested. Sadly this student in question came from a single parent home and was responsible for the care of his younger siblings. I could have invoked the seat time requirement or found any other reason not to give him the grade he earned based on his understanding, but I don’t understand what that would have done for that young man. He is now enrolled in college and is working hard to break the cycle of poverty that he was born into. As my principal often says “no child chooses the circumstances in which they are brought into” and while there are many things we can do to combat chronic absenteeism, there are times where we need to make accommodations and think about what is in the best interest of this student.
So, what are some ways that you are combating absenteeism in your classroom or at your school? What accommodations do you make for those students that do miss class?
Aside from teaching, I also coach baseball (JV for the high school and AA for American Legion) and enjoy spending time with my wife and son.
Latest posts by Aaron Brecek (see all)
- Rewarding Students… - December 3, 2016
- Chronic Absenteeism: the issues it creates & how to combat it - November 7, 2016
- Using Restorative Practices - October 10, 2016