Empty Classroom Photo by Christopher Sessums

Taking Attendance

Resolving the Attendance Crisis in California’s Elementary Schools

A report from the California Attorney General highlights solutions to the problem of “chronic absence” across the state.

210,000. That’s how many California students between kindergarten and fifth grade missed 10 percent or more of school last year. These students — considered “chronically absent” by educators — make up about one in 14 students in the state. With statistics showing that regular attendance at school, especially in the elementary years, has a positive impact on student achievement, California is working to reduce chronic absence so more kids can succeed.

It all starts with capturing good data on the scope of the problem — and a new report, In School + On Track 2016, from California Attorney General Kamala Harris does just that. According to the report, the 7-percent rate of chronic absence in elementary schools for 2015-16 was a slight uptick from a 6-percent rate the year before. Even more concerning, chronic absence rates reached 10 percent or higher for African American, Native American and Pacific Islander students. Rates also were considerably above average for low-income, homeless and special-needs students.

The report calls on schools and school districts to take action to reduce the high absence rates for students in the early years of school, and particularly among students of color. It includes recommendations on issues from creating “a culture of positive attendance” in the earliest years of school to replacing suspensions for minor offenses with better behavioral support for students. The report also includes case studies of schools and districts that are taking positive steps to help make sure more kids are in school and on track.