A new report by the group Advocates for Children of New Jersey finds the number of K-12 students identified as being chronically absent from school dropped from 136,000 to 129,000 over the past few years.

“Even though the decline was only 6 percent between 2014-15 and 2015-16, that’s about 8,000 fewer students who were chronically absent,” Peter Chen, policy attorney for Advocates for Children of New Jersey and a co-author of “Showing Up Matters: The State of Chronic Absenteeism in New Jersey,” said.

 

Chronic absenteeism is defined as missing 10 percent or more of the school year.

He said the report also finds the number of districts that have high absenteeism has declined as well, from 216 to 192 school districts.

"It shows that districts are making progress and can make progress on this issue," he said.

Despite the trend, Chen stressed the total number of students missing a lot of school is still troubling.

“We’re talking about almost 10 percent of students across the state of New Jersey who are missing 10 percent or more of their enrolled school days. That’s almost a month of school a year, and that month of school a year is going to impact their learning in that year and for many years to come," he said.

He said districts that have a low overall absenteeism rate may nonetheless have a very high absenteeism rate among specific groups.

“This could include students in special education, English language learners, economically disadvantaged students and black and Hispanic students," he said.

Chen said even districts that may not see a very high absenteeism level overall may need to take a look at some populations of students who may have higher absenteeism, and develop strategies to help those students attend school on time.

After becoming aware of the problem, Assemblywoman Valerie Vainieri Huttle (D-Bergen) sponsored a measure to require schools to address the issue.

Assemblywoman Valerie Huttle. David Matthau, Townsquare Media NJ

She said the legislation would require a public school to convene a chronic absenteeism coalition in the event that 10 percent or more of the students enrolled are chronically absent.

She said the coalition would consist of parents, school officials and nurses, to create a group of individuals “who can step in and get to the root of the problems, that can help cut down on school absences and keep students on the right track.”

Huttle said kids may not show up at school for a variety of reasons.

“They may be dealing with unstable home life, or a lack of transportation, which is another issue. There’s so many issues that we could try to be mindful of," she said.

Chen stressed there’s no one-size-fits-all solution to chronic absenteeism, “but as districts start looking at their data they can make very pragmatic solutions that can help students attend school more regularly, and help support families that need assistance to get kids to school regularly.”

He said every school district with a chronic absenteeism problem needs to figure out why this is happening, and then develop a plan to address the situation that brings teachers, administrators and parents together.

Huttle said she’s hoping the measure is introduced in the Assembly Education Committee in the coming weeks, released, then voted on by the full lower House before the end of the year.

The measure has already been passed by the New Jersey State Senate.

You can contact reporter David Matthau at David.Matthau@townsquaremedia.com

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