An estimated 250,000 students in California, Kindergarten through 5th Grade, were chronically absent from school in the 2013–14 school year. Another 230,000 missed 18 days or more in 2014-2015. The cost of these missed days in school can be measured in multiple ways, but in the end, it is the students who suffer most.
September is Attendance Awareness Month, a national event which acknowledges the importance of connecting student attendance with academic achievement. 83% of students chronically absent in Kindergarten and 1st grade are unable to read on-level by 3rd grade. Students who cannot read on-level in 3rd grade are four times more likely to drop out than kids who can. Missing school deprives students of important developmental learning opportunities and the many benefits of regular participation in their education.
The price paid for missing school is not only measured in academic achievement. According to the In School On Track 2015 Elementary School Report generated by the Office of the Attorney General, Imperial County lost a total of $8,537,466.30 in elementary school funding for 2014-15 due to student absenteeism. This amounts to an average of nearly $240 for every student, which could be used to provide additional services and support for our young learners.
The Imperial County Office of Education, the Imperial County District Attorney’s Office, and the Imperial County Probation Department have joined forces to tackle truancy in a coordinated way. School administrators, attendance clerks, probation officers, attorneys, and foster youth advocates are receiving training and developing strategies for addressing the issues. By collectively addressing truancy, several goals are being addressed: 1) increase student achievement, 2) increase high school graduation, and 3) reduce economic and public safety costs.
The District Attorney’s Office is implementing Project Legal Enrichment And Decision Making (LEAD) to educate students in the 5th and 9th grade about the short and long-term effects of truancy. The DA’s Office has partnered with the Imperial County Office of Education, Calexico Unified School District, and Brawley Elementary School District. Project LEAD focuses on making positive choices in life and promotes tolerance and respect in the school and community. Deborah Owen, the Assistant District Attorney, recognizes that truancy is a child’s first step in going in the wrong direction.
“ICOE is pleased to partner with the District Attorney and others in addressing chronic absenteeism in Imperial County,” said Todd Finnell, County Superintendent of Schools. “We need to raise awareness of these impacts on our students and make regular attendance a priority for our students and parents. Missing school immediately disadvantages our students given the rigor and pace of today’s curriculum.”
Project Success Through Attendance Recovery (STAR) is another new collaborative between ICOE and the Imperial County Probation Department. Project STAR’s goal is to increase student attendance, academic achievement, and increase selfsufficiency for students. By working together, the aim is to increase wrap-around services for students and parents and provide them with the necessary tools to be successful.