Unlike other school districts, chronic absenteeism has not traditionally been a problem in Piedmont schools. But COVID conditions changed that calculus and district administrators are now working to raise awareness about the impact school absences have on student achievement and district finances.
According to a presentation at the Sept. 14 Board of Education meeting by Director of Instructional Technology Stephanie Griffin and Director of Special Education Douglas Harter, in 2021-2022 PUSD saw an increase of 52% of students that missed 10% or more attendance days compared to the previous school year. (“Chronic absenteeism” under California education code means missing more than 10% of school days in a school year.) Last year 184 students — or nearly 8% — missed more than 18 days of school. Griffin noted that in 2018-2019 that number was closer to 4%.
California schools get funding based on their average daily attendance. (Some modifications to that formula were introduced during the pandemic to account for attendance/enrollment drops.) According to the district, with $55 as the daily reimbursement rate per student, and when 184 students are absent for 10% of the school year (18 days), PUSD funding would be reduced by more than $180,000 at a minimum.
Average Daily Attendance (ADA)
California is one of seven states that use Average Daily Attendance (ADA) to determine school district funding, according to the Education Commission of the States. ADA is the average number of students in seats calculated over a state-determined period of time. Absent students are not counted in the daily count. The seven states using this measurement often cite the rationale that time spent in a physical classroom leads to improved student achievement. Along with California, those states include Idaho, Kentucky, Mississippi, Missouri, New York, and Texas.Attendance Issues Could Drive a Change in How School District Funding is Calculated, California State PTA
While Griffin and Harder said they don’t have specific data about all the absences last year, they said it was clear COVID was a factor, but not the only one. Most of the absences are taking place in the early elementary grades — Kindergarten is not (yet) mandatory in the state and parents sometimes don’t think too much is at stake when pulling out students in the early years. High school seniors are also more likely to miss school due to “senioritis” — they’ve applied to colleges or maybe even already know their post-high school plans and don’t feel compelled to show up for all their classes.
Griffin noted that in pre-COVID times when administrators first began delving into attendance data, absences at the middle school for example, were due to mental health issues such as depression and anxiety.
The two told the Board that patterns of absenteeism can be early indicators that a student needs support. The district will use a tiered approach to improving attendance, one that includes intensive case management for students who are missing 20% or more of school, personalized early outreach to students and families who may be at risk for missing 10% – 19% of school due to health or other issues, and a more general awareness campaign in school bulletins and social media for all others.
Griffin said families will start to see more regular communications about attendance this fall, from general information about why attendance matters to more targeted emails and letters. School sites will have an “attendance review team” that may include school psychologists, principals, and counselors who will use their discretion in determining which students appear most at risk of falling into a chronic absenteeism pattern.