State Hearing Highlights the Distressing Implications of Chronic Absenteeism

Crisis of Contact:  State Hearing Highlights the Distressing Implications of Chronic Absenteeism

by Kent Ashworth, reprinted from November 14, 2013 Education Matters published by Achieve Hartford!

Director Hedy Chang of Attendance Works, Executive Director Elaine Zimmerman of the CT Commission on Children, Rep. Gary Holder-Winfield, and Lt. Gov. Nancy Wyman all call attention to the chronic absence crisis.  Photo by Kent Ashworth.

In an effort to un-package absenteeism and its impact on children’s academic achievement and life chances, Attendance Works Director Hedy Chang spoke plainly and powerfully at the State House:  The best predictor of chronic absence … is chronic absence the previous year, which tells us just who’s in trouble. This is a problem we can solve.

Ms. Chang and her organization are on a mission to make sure children go to school – because if they do so on a regular basis, the data show that children of even modest means – even in the deepest poverty – still succeed.
Just like ignoring a check-engine light on a car, treating absence from school as an afterthought can leave children tumbling down a slippery slope, starting slowly and losing speed from the earliest years. When a child “has a stomach ache” in Kindergarten, it might be an indicator of another issue at school that ought to be addressed; when it becomes a manipulation or a problem over time, kids fall off the achievement bandwagon.

In too many cases, Ms. Chang warns, we don’t even have the light lit up so we can see what’s happening to the engine.

Here’s the point: regular attendance is a life skill. Schools need to notice – and reverse – chronic absence and do so early. The schools must take on this responsibility. Children need to hear that when you are working on a job, you have to show up. Early habits form patterns that either cultivate learning and open up opportunities … or bring children to a hard stop.

To underscore these points, here is the informative presentation from Ajit Gopalakrishnan, chief of the Bureau of Data Collection, Research and Evaluation at the State Department of Education.

Many speakers at the legislative hearing Tuesday emphasized that chronic absence is not a school district problem alone. Indeed, solutions only will come from collaborative partnerships. According to the data presented, even when attendance wasn't a factor, a 20 percent gap at the Proficient level on state tests remained between African American students and their white counterparts – but minority students who regularly attend school outperform those who don't.

For schools, “Having caring adults who will miss them when they’re not in school – that’s a key strategy,” Ms. Chang advised. There are other strategies that work and just simply need to be implemented, she added.
A sobering statistic: Chronic absence in Kindergarten leads to the need for significant interventions by Second Grade.

Where Does That Leave Hartford?

Students on free lunch are three times as absent.

Black and Hispanic children are more than two times as likely to be absent – and what starts out correctible early can develop in later grades with terribly unfortunate ramifications.
Hartford’s data proves this to be true.
Together, as parents, as advocates for Hartford kids, as educators, we have to bring solutions to the table.


Leave a Reply