- Last school year, 70% of students in the Detroit Public Schools Community District were chronically absent, missing 18 or more days of school, compared to the state average of 20%, Chalkbeat reports. Nationally, the district's students have ranked at the bottom among major cities in academic performance, and solving its attendance problems stands in the way of progress in other areas.
- This year, a $9 million investment moved to place attendance agents — who study daily reports, analyze data and look for students who need help, Chalkbeat notes — in most of the district’s 106 schools to enforce the law and help families overcome truancy issues. This follows other attempted strategies, including a campaign to raise community awareness and a pilot program to work with local groups and find solutions.
- While the issue is far from solved, the district is starting to notice marked improvements — it's only had two days so far when attendance dropped below 75%, compared with eight days by the same time last year. In addition, nearly 150 students had perfect attendance in January and February, compared to 85 in November and December, Chalkbeat notes.
In recent years, there's been a greater light shed on truancy issues across the nation. Improved data collection has helped highlight the true extent of the problem, and new Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) regulations are forcing schools to take a closer look at tracking attendance data — chronic absenteeism rates are an accountability metric in many state ESSA plans. In addition, chronic absenteeism rates affect other factors that are under scrutiny from state and federal governments, including academic performance and graduation rates.
The recent surge in big data has revealed that chronic absenteeism is a big issue. It's shown that not only have chronic absenteeism rates grown, but school districts can also focus on trends and trouble spots. For instance, middle school seems to be an area of concern for many districts, as more than 19% of middle school students across the nation were chronically absent in 2015.
While more accurate data collection may help give scale to the problem, it may also offer solutions. As schools dive into the data, they can better pinpoint areas of concern and better track students who are missing school more often. They can also convey more accurate information to parents about the number of days their students have missed and remind them of the importance of good attendance.
While rewarding students for perfect attendance may backfire, working with community members and organizations to reward improvements can have a positive effect. Better enforcement of truancy laws has an impact as well, but reaching out to students to hear about their needs and obstacles can arguably serve them even better. As schools help students and families overcome these hurdles, attendance will likely improve. States and school districts are exploring other potential solutions, and organizations such as Attendance Works can help school leaders find resources and ideas to improve school attendance rates.