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Are your kids ‘chronically absent’ from school?

A staggering 125,000 New Jersey students were considered “chronically absent” in the 2013-2014 school year according to a report released Thursday by Advocates for Children of New Jersey titled “Showing Up Matters: The State of Chronic Absenteeism in New Jersey.”

(Daniel Hurst, ThinkStock)

This means the pupils missed 10 percent or more of school days ether with excused or unexcused absences. The report revealed the average median average number of missed days for these students was 23. While this is mainly a problem in low income areas, affluent school districts were not immune.

“You have to be in school to learn,” said ACNJ executive director Cecilia Zalkind. “Excessive absenteeism can have long term consequences for students. It can impact on whether children are able to read on grade level by the end of third grade. Third-graders who are unable to read are four times more likely to drop out of high school.”

Chronic absenteeism is a huge problem in kindergarten and 12th grade according to the study. Twenty-three percent of kindergartners and 27 percent of 12th-graders in high-absenteeism districts were in this category. Overall, 177 school districts have unacceptably high chronic absenteeism rates.

“This impacts on test scores. National studies and data right here in New Jersey show that students that students who miss three or more school days in the month before national exams scored significantly lower on both the language and math tests,” Zalkind said.

Students with good attendance scored 11 points higher on reading tests and 13 points higher on math tests than those chronically absent, according to the New Jersey Department of Education.

Chronic absenteeism also disrupts the classroom Zalkind said because teachers have to pay extra attention to those students to help them catch up to where other kids have already learned.

“I think it’s very interesting to look at the district data to see that you have a range. You have higher income districts in this mix. You may have families in some of the wealthier districts who will take a long vacation and think, ‘Well, I’ll just take my child out of school for this three week period while we go somewhere.’ It does have an impact,” Zalkind said.

Here are some statistics from the report:

  • In Alpine Boro 11 percent of students in grades K-12 were chronically absent.
  • The People’s Preparatory Charter School in Newark does not have 12th grade, but its chronically absent rate was 20 percent.
  • Princeton Public Schools had a chronically absent rate of 13 percent.

Calling parents and guardians periodically to remind them of the importance of making sure their kids are attending school is a practice under way in Paterson, according to  Sandra Diodenet, an administrator in the school district. She said building awareness was also important.

“From that first day of school staff should be analyzing absentee data so that students who may be at risk can be identified as early as possible,” said Cynthia Rice, ACNJ senior policy analyst.

Other recommendations included:

  • Send a message to parents early and often.
  • Contract parents immediately when a child shows a pattern of too many absences.
  • Foster positive relationships with families.
  • Reward for excellent or improved attendance.

Kevin McArdle has covered the State House for New Jersey 101.5 news since 2002. Contact him at kevin.mcardle@townsquaremedia.com. Follow him on Twitter at @kevinmcardle1

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