Wednesday March 27, 2024

Focus on School Attendance Brings Results for Students

Focus and a clear plan make the difference in most things and Oklahoma City Public Schools is proving that to be true with their efforts towards improving chronic absenteeism throughout the district. Chronic absenteeism is defined as missing 10% or more of the school year and the outcomes for students can be devastating. For Oklahoma City Public School students, that is missing 16 days- excused or unexcused.

National Data:

A 2023 report from the Council of Economic Advisors found that for 4th grade students, chronic absenteeism was traced to a 27% decline in math scores and a 45% decline in reading scores. For 8th grade students, chronic absenteeism caused a 16% decline in math and a 36% decline in reading.

Post Covid chronic absenteeism was at an all-time high throughout the country- with two-thirds of students attending schools with chronic absenteeism. This affects not only the students missing school, but also those attending, as teachers are spending extra effort trying to get students caught up. Prior to the pandemic, the number was only about one quarter of students.

Students who miss too much school are less likely to read at grade level in elementary school and are at least 4 times more likely to drop out of high school. They are behind in skills such as the ability to pay attention, adapting to change and building resilience. As early as 6th grade, attendance can be a predictor of high school graduation and by 9th grade attendance is a better predictor of high school graduation than 8th grade academics. This may seem obvious, but good attendance in high school proves to be a predictor of better outcomes in college and career pathways as well.

Oklahoma City Public Schools Results:

The focused plan, which included attendance advocates, incentives (some provided by the OKCPS Foundation) and regular monitoring, among other strategies, allowed for great improvement the first half of this school year. Elementary schools ended the fall semester with 6% fewer students chronically absent. Middle and high schools had 2% fewer chronically absent students. Across OKCPS, that is an increase of nearly 1,200 students attending school regularly who weren’t last year. Some schools have made even more dramatic progress – 7 schools have decreased their chronic absenteeism by more than 10% year over year.

Ariel O’Shields is the district’s attendance advocacy coordinator and provided the data for this column. She works with schools on their strategies and implementation of their plans. Each school in OKCPS has attendance growth as a key goal and metric- knowing that this focus will help and support students now and for the long term.

There isn’t a school district in our state or country that hasn’t struggled with chronic absenteeism, as evidenced by this data. Kudos to OKCPS for taking steps towards changing the trajectory for our students. Stay the course. The focus and the plan will pay off.

–Mary Mélon-Tully, President and CEO of the Oklahoma City Public Schools Foundation

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