Regional Efforts to Combat Chronic Absenteeism Show Positive Impact
The San Diego County Improving Chronic Absence Network (ICAN) made up of more than a dozen school districts in the region implemented attendance interventions this year that have proven to be effective at reducing chronic absenteeism in schools.
A recent impact report shows the schools' efforts resulted in nearly 9% of the chronically absent students return to class.
Chronic absenteeism is when a student misses 10% or more of the instructional days in an academic year. In recent years and especially since the pandemic, it has become a growing concern in education. Chronic absenteeism has numerous causes including reasons associated with health and well-being, socioeconomic issues, school climate and bullying, and lack of engagement.
“If we are truly going to create futures without boundaries for our students and our region, we need to do all we can to ensure students are getting the best education possible,” said San Diego County Superintendent of Education Dr. Paul Gothold. “That can only happen if students are in schools so addressing chronic absenteeism is imperative, especially for our most vulnerable students. Every instructional minute is important.”
The San Diego County Office of Education created the San Diego County Improving Chronic Absence Network to address the enormous challenge of improving chronic school absence by helping schools implement small, targeted changes that are proven to get results. ICAN creates a structure for collective learning and action that is built on evidence-based practices for improving student attendance and guided by the principles and tools of improvement science.
“There are many reasons why students may be chronically absent and schools and districts are trying as many approaches to solve them,“ said Shannon Coulter, Director, Research and Evaluation at SDCOE. “This network allows districts to come together and share best practices to better impact students across the county.”
During the 2021-22 and 2022-23 school years, 18 schools in seven school districts joined the ICAN Network’s third cohort and partnered with leaders at the San Diego County Office of Education to implement attendance interventions that have proven to be effective at reducing chronic absenteeism in schools. These 18 schools implemented interventions that sent nudge letters to families of students who were at risk of becoming chronically absent and enacted relationship building strategies that strengthened students’ sense of belonging.
The difference in chronic absenteeism across the two years was a net decline of nearly 9%, a decline to which ICAN interventions contributed. In addition, the cohort saw a 29% decline in chronic absenteeism for students who received two nudge letters during the year.
In the 2021-22 cohort, 8,997 total students were enrolled in these 18 network schools and 3,649 of these students were chronically absent, resulting in a 41% chronic absenteeism rate. In 2022-23, there were 8,882 students enrolled in network schools with 2,849 who were chronically absent, a rate of 32%.
To be part of the network, school teams of three to six people commit to a year-long program, designed to help them test and implement these practices at their schools. With the support of an improvement coach, teams engage in onboarding and system investigation activities in the spring and summer. Teams attend three learning sessions to learn and collaborate with other schools and then adapt and test out specific attendance strategies at their sites during three action periods. The network concludes with a final convening to celebrate, share learning, and develop plans to sustain these efforts.
“These results are encouraging and show that targeted interventions can help,” added Coulter. “It’s important because these are not just numbers and percentages, they represent real students who can be better supported and learn when they are at school.”
At the end of the 2021-22 school year, chronic absenteeism reached a record 28% for students in San Diego County, meaning that nearly three in 10 students missed 10% or more of school days. Some groups have higher rates of chronic absenteeism including students who are African-American (33%), American-Indian (39%), Hispanic (36%), and Pacific Islander (39%).
In response to this challenge, the San Diego County Office of Education created the San Diego County Improving Chronic Absence Network (ICAN), which has supported the school-based implementation of several research-based interventions to address the problem including identifying students at risk of chronic absenteeism, building stronger relationships with students and families, more closely tracking and monitoring attendance, and increasing awareness of the importance of consistent attendance.
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