Schools with a sizeable share of chronically absent students would be forced to do something about it under a measure that continues to advance through the New Jersey Legislature.

Elementary classroom setting. Focus on teacher and chalkboard.
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Approved by the Assembly Education Committee on Monday, the bill would require a school develop a corrective action plan to improve absenteeism rates if at least 10 percent of the student body is considered chronically absent.

Chronic absenteeism is typically defined as missing 10 percent or more of the school year. For the purpose of this bill, clearer rules would need to be set for students who enroll in a school after the start of the academic year.

In the process of identifying barriers to school attendance and developing recommendations to address them, a school must solicit input from parents, the bill states.

"Schools can only prepare students when they're there," Cynthia Rice, senior policy analyst with Advocates for Children of New Jersey, told the legislative panel. "The bill recognizes, in a non-punitive way ... the strong link between student attendance and short- and long-term educational success."

Days missed, under the bill, include excused absences, unexcused absences and absences due to disciplinary actions. Absences with a doctor's note would not be included in the calculation.

A report released by ACNJ in November pointed to 129,000 chronically absent students in the Garden State during the 2015-2016 school year, a decline of 6 percent from the year prior.

In Paterson, where a quarter of the student body is considered chronically absent, a number of initiatives have been implemented to put a dent in the problem, according to the district's Sandra Diodonet.

The district has a task force devoted to chronic absenteeism; banners across the city's wards remind parents that attendance matters; the hashtag #PPSShowUp keeps the conversation going online; challenges encourage students to be present on a daily basis; the superintendent makes sure to address the issue during any public meeting with parents.

"It's not enough just to tell kids you have to show up," Diodonet said. "We have to be intentional in that there has to be a plan at the school."

Under the bill, a school's corrective action plan is reviewed and revised annually until the rate of chronically absent students drops below 10 percent. Also, the Commissioner of Education is required to include related data on schools' report cards and report on the rates to the State Board of Education.

The measure received unanimous approval by the full Senate in June.

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