Last Thursday, the CT Kids Report Card Chronic Absenteeism Strategic Action Group — a 30-member committee that develops initiatives to address chronic absenteeism across the state — discussed the progress it has made toward lowering state truancy rates within public schools and identified further steps to improve students’ attendance.
The SAG was formed in 2011 in response to high levels of truancy across the state’s school districts. Since the SAG’s founding, chronic absenteeism levels — which indicate that students are missing 10 percent or more of school days per year, equating to one day every two weeks — have decreased from 11.5 percent in 2013 to 10.7 percent in 2014, the last school year for which data is available. The 0.8 percent drop indicates that approximately 4,000 Connecticut students are no longer deemed chronically absent. At the meeting, the SAG identified new truancy-reduction strategies such as expanding its geographic information system mapping and expanding the organization’s national partnership with Attendance Works — a national initiative that fights truancy through policy and political activism.
“Chronic absenteeism is a real problem that can negatively impact a student’s chances for graduating high school and achieving success in college, career and life,” Connecticut State Department of Education spokeswoman Abbe Smith said in a statement to the News.
Charlene Russell-Tucker, the Connecticut Board of Education’s chief operating officer, and John Vaverchak, supervisor of attendance for the Consolidated School District of New Britain, led the SAG’s Thursday meeting. In their presentation, they said the organization has increased the accuracy and availability of data used by policymakers, adding that it has also partnered with statewide organizations — including the Governor’s Prevention Partnership and the Office of Early Childhood — to promote mentoring students in order to increase attendance.
Four model programs to fight truancy were presented during the meeting. Wendy Silverman, director of the Yale Child Study Center Program for Anxiety Disorders, highlighted the link between mental health disorders and a student’s likelihood for missing school. She said schools often do not consider mental health issues and the resulting somatic problems that lead to chronic absenteeism.
Alongside Eli Lebowitz, an assistant professor at Yale’s Child Study Center, Silverman presented Personalized Intervention for Pupil Absenteeism, a program that identifies a specific intervention for chronically absent individuals.
SAG works with the CSDE to identify and implement the best practices in combating chronic absenteeism rates, Smith said.
“At the Connecticut State Department of Education, we are working collaboratively with school districts and state and community partners to stress the importance of daily school attendance starting in kindergarten, and to share best practices from schools and districts that are having success at reducing chronic absenteeism,” Smith said.
Although she is not an SAG member, Mayor Toni Harp has taken an interest in reducing chronic absenteeism in the Elm City, which she sees as an impediment to students’ learning processes, she said.
Harp said chronic absenteeism is especially harmful for citywide literacy rates. She added that students who regularly miss school may be at higher risk for developing behavioral and social difficulties in school.
“One of the things that we are trying to do is make sure that everyone attends school — students and teachers,” Harp said. “It’s important that we let parents know that attendance is important, and let the kids know that we will do everything we can to keep them in their seats.”
Harp launched Attendance Matters, a citywide campaign to increase attendance rates in New Haven Public Schools, in September. Attendance Matters engages the community in ensuring Elm City students are healthy enough to attend class and have access to transportation to and from school.
25 percent of lower-school NHPS students are chronically absent, NHPS Superintendent Garth Harries ’95 said in September.