TTUSD looks to battle chronic absenteeism among students | SierraSun.com
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TTUSD looks to battle chronic absenteeism among students

Margaret Moran
mmoran@sierrasun.com

TRUCKEE, Calif. and#8212; Chronic absenteeism was the major topic Sept. 5 at the first Tahoe Truckee Unified School District Board of Trustees meeting of the 2012-13 school year.

Chronic absenteeism, along with summer learning loss and school readiness, are the main reasons for poor literacy among children, according to various research, said TTUSD Superintended Rob Leri, an issue that Tahoe Truckee is committed to addressing after being named one of 14 All America City communities in July.

and#8220;Chronic absenteeism has a different definition than most people would think,and#8221; Leri said. and#8220;Chronic absences is really looking at students that are absent for some amount of time, and the definition that is most often used is 10 percent of the school year for any reason (both excused and unexcused), so if we have 178 school days, that means that they are absent from school 17 days.and#8221;

Leri said the district looked at student attendance for the 2011-12 school year with the chronic absenteeism definition in mind and discovered some surprising results.

and#8220;In the lower grades, zero to 3, there was quite a high number of chronic absentees,and#8221; said Dave Curry, TTUSDand#8217;s director of educational services. and#8220;When you get to fourth grade and#8212; really third, fourth and fifth, right in there and#8212; it really takes a dip. Then as we go through the middle grades and on into high school we see it climb, climb, climb back up. In our case, sophomores and seniors seem to have the highest percentage of chronic absenteeism.

According to a study the district conducted on chronic absences for the 2011-12 school year, zero grade had a chronic absenteeism rate of 19 percent, with that rate decreasing to 15 percent and 14 percent for first and second grade, respectively.

Third grade had a chronic absenteeism rate of 10 percent, with fourth grade having the lowest rate of all the levels at 6 percent. At fifth grade, the rate of chronic absenteeism starts to increase again at 13 percent, with the highest rates being in 10th and 12th grade, at 29 and 33 percent, respectively.

and#8220;Now you might think theyand#8217;re on sports (trips), on field trips and things like that,and#8221; Curry said. and#8220;We didnand#8217;t count sports and field trips in this chronic absenteeism data because those are school events. We only counted unexcused and excused absences, so that raises the bar as far as the alarm goes.and#8221;

There are three national reasons to explain chronic absenteeism, Leri said: parental discretion, aversion due to academic or social problems in school and barriers such as inadequate transportation or lack of funds.

For students who miss several days of school under the category of unexcused absences, there are protocols in place to address the matter, explained Leri in a follow-up interview.

Three unexcused absences begins a School Attendance Review Board process with parents receiving a letter after the third unexcused absence. They receive a and#8220;series of three lettersand#8221; and are then asked to attend a SARB meeting, which includes administrators, counselors and law enforcement. It is at the meeting the parent(s) can plea their case and reach an agreement regarding their childand#8217;s school attendance. If the situation continues after that, the parent(s) could go before a judge and be possibly fined.

As for the student, if he or she misses so much instruction that failing grades are issued, tutoring, summer work or being held back will be considered.

and#8220;The national research does find a direct correlation with reading ability and chronic absenteeism, so those students who are absent, it makes perfect sense that theyand#8217;re perhaps not getting the instruction they really need,and#8221; Leri said in the board meeting. and#8220;One of the surprising research areas though is the impact that larger number of students who are absent have on instruction for all students in a class, in a grade, at a school.

and#8220;When you think about it, having to redo lessons or not doing things based on a large number of students being absent, it has a profound impact on the learning of all kids.and#8221;

To address chronic absenteeism, Leri said one of the first steps the district is taking is informing staff, school principals and parents of the issue.

and#8220;Iand#8217;m really excited about this,and#8221; said board member Kristen Livak. and#8220;About 10 years ago, I sat on the SARBand#8217;s team, and I remember thinking at that time and#8212; that was the point when we were sending police officers to the childrenand#8217;s homes to go pick them up and make sure they were coming to school and#8212; I was always thinking to myself, why are we waiting for it to get this bad; itand#8217;s kind of too late, so Iand#8217;m thrilled (about this).and#8221;

ACT data from 2008-2012 shows the average score for the district across all subjects is in the low-to-mid 20s out of a total score of 36, according to statistics shared at the meeting, which is above the state average.

Compared to area schools, North Tahoe High School had the highest 2011-12 SAT scores with an average score of 1585, out of 2400, followed by Truckee High School with an average score of 1577. Bishop Manogue Catholic High School in Reno averaged 1574, followed by Incline High School with 1521. The national average SAT score was 1500.

and#8220;These data are reflective of some measure and they are not necessarily the level of which I would hope that weand#8217;re aspiring to,and#8221; Leri said. and#8220;and#8230; I donand#8217;t want to diminish the importance of doing well. I think we can do better.and#8221;


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