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Monfredo: New School Year - Attend Today & Achieve Tomorrow

Saturday, September 08, 2018


As the new school year begins, the Worcester Public Schools will be joining districts across the nation and getting ready for SEPTEMBER ATTENDANCE AWARENESS MONTH.   The theme “Every School Day Counts” has been used by many districts to call attention to the importance of being in school.  In addition, Mayor Petty read a proclamation this week to emphasize the importance of good attendance and asked all citizens to make sure that chronic absenteeism is a thing of the past.

Nationwide, organizations have banned together including Attendance Works, The National Mentoring Partnership, American Academy of Pediatrics, AVID (Advancement Via Individual Determination, National Association of Secondary School, and the National Association of School Nurses to alert parents about the importance of school attendance.

Research shows that improving student attendance is an essential, cost-effective but often an overlooked strategy for ensuring that our students are on track to learn and succeed.  Universally, this is a problem with some school systems having students miss up to 19% of the school year.   Chronic absence is a leading early warning indicator of academic trouble and later of the student becoming a dropout.  A student is considered chronically absent if they miss eighteen days or more of the school year.

While many think of chronic absenteeism as a secondary school problem, not so says the researchers.  Many in the field are suggesting that the start of elementary school is a vital time to deal with absenteeism—particularly as those programs become more academic. The early years in a child’s educational career are critical and parents need to ensure that their child attend school on a regular basis

Early grade level attendance is essential for these early years are where you really want to work on developing good work habits.  Unfortunately, many times parents don’t see the harmful affect this has on a child’s development.

Students need to attend school daily to succeed.  Achievement, especially in math, is very sensitive to attendance, and absence of even two weeks during one school year matters. Attendance also strongly affects standardized test scores and graduation and dropout rates. Educators and policymakers cannot truly address the achievement gaps or efforts to close them without considering chronic absenteeism.  According to research and some common sense one of the most effective strategies for providing pathways out of poverty is do all that it takes to get students in school every day.  This alone, even without improvements in the American Education System, will drive up achievement, high school graduation, and college attainment rates.

I have been a vocal advocate on this issue since 2012 and have urged our district to come up with a plan to eradicate this problem.  Our new superintendent has been active in addressing the issue.

Worcester’s School Superintendent Maureen Binienda is well aware of this problem and when she became superintendent reducing chronic absenteeism was one her top priorities. In making the community aware of this issue she established an ongoing committee on absenteeism, reviewed the data monthly with her committee, has staff reach out to parents whose child is having difficulty getting to school, and sends out five-week attendance reports to parents.  In doing so she has been able to reduce chronic absenteeism by two percent.  It’s still over 10% but the district's goal is to do all that they can to bring down the percentage further during this school year.

 Superintendent Binienda stated, "The WPS will continue to focus on improved attendance as one of our top priorities.  We want to engage parents, civic and elected leaders, local businesses, interfaith members and all service providers in addressing this issue.  We will continue to use data to raise public awareness, establish our goals, track progress and assure accountability.   Students who attend school reach higher achievement than students who are absent. Every day a student is absent, there is a lost opportunity for learning."

In Worcester we need to continue to nurture a culture of attendance, identify and address barriers to school attendance and advocate within the community about the importance of attendance and seek their assistance with this ongoing problem.

Here are SOME of the facts …Does missing school matter? Here’s what researchers have found:

In a nationally representative data set, chronic absence in kindergarten was associated with lower academic performance in first grade. The impact is twice as great for students from low-income families.

National Center for Children in Poverty found that on average, students who missed 10 percent or more of school in kindergarten scored significantly lower in reading, math and general knowledge tests at the end of 1st grade than did students who missed 3 percent or fewer days.    

A Baltimore study found a strong relationship between sixth-grade attendance and the percentage of students graduating on time or within a year of their expected high school graduation.

Chronic absenteeism increases achievement gaps at the elementary, middle, and high school levels.

Because students reared in poverty benefit the most from being in school, one of the most effective strategies for providing pathways out of poverty is to do what it takes to get these students in school every day.

Reducing chronic absenteeism will not only have a significant impact on third grade reading on grade level but it will narrow the achievement gaps, and increasing graduation rates.

It is most important that everyone take this issue seriously and make it a priority for our school system. This issue will not go away by itself and will need a community effort to resolve it.  Curbing chronic absenteeism in our city can be a key driver to achievement, higher graduation rates, college attainment and to better economic development.  It all starts in the early grades and we as a community need to be part of this process for the future of our children depends on us.


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