In December, the Newhall School District’s board of trustees received a report of data regarding absenteeism in the district, and related efforts to reduce chronic absenteeism — and the data indicates that district administrators and staff are making progress.
According to a presentation from Nick Gilstrap, intervention manager at School Innovations & Achievement, chronic absenteeism declined from 14% to 12%, and overall student attendance rose in the 2022-23 school year, so far, by 4% compared to the previous school year.
“This is a first look at your tenancy,” Gilstrap said. “This is a look at your student body as of Oct. 31. The good news is almost two-thirds of students are doing really well. We do have about a [small] population that’s at risk.”
Absenteeism is defined as regularly staying away from work or school without good reason. Though it’s somewhat normal for students to be absent from time to time due to illness, family vacations or other reasons, missing school becomes an issue when it’s chronic, or more than 5.5 missing days of instruction.
District staff and administrators said they will work with families and students to ensure students keep up with their studies if they know students will be out of school for an extended period of time. But when they deal with chronic absenteeism, it can be detrimental to a student’s education.
In addition, the higher chronic absenteeism rates are, the more it will affect how much funding a school district receives from the state. In California, the state Department of Education provides monies based on the Local Control Funding Formula.
The LCFF consists of a base amount of money, which is dependent on enrollment, supplemental grants, K-3 and universal pre-kindergarten adjustments, as well as by property taxes.
Gilstrap said they used 55 instructional days, between August and October, to extrapolate the data being shown to the governing board. Approximately 63.4% (3,760) of Newhall district students fall within the excellent and satisfactory groups and approximately 36.6% (2,169) of students have missed more than 2.7 days of school, according to the report.
Chronic absenteeism increased as a result of a multitude of factors related to the COVID-19 pandemic. As students return to in-person learning, district administrators are doing everything they can to reduce the percentage of chronic absenteeism.
Gilstrap noted in his presentation that in the Newhall district, overall, the chronic rate of absenteeism by grade decreased, but the rate increased or stayed the same at the pre-kindergarten and kindergarten grades.
According to Gilstrap, some parents might have kept their young children at home in fear of them getting sick, which could then lead to the parents getting sick and keep them from working. District staff noted they would need to better communicate with those parents about the safety measures in place to prevent sickness from spreading among the younger students.
The data also broke down chronic rates by school sites. Overall, there was a decline of chronic rates at most school sites with the exception of Valencia Valley Elementary, Stevenson Ranch Elementary and Oak Hills Elementary, where chronic rates rose at most by 1.6%.
The Newhall district’s governing board expressed that the chronic rates are looking better in the 2022-23 school year compared to the previous one, but they are still high.
McGrath Elementary’s chronic rate, for example, was at 20.3% in the 2021-22 school year, and it’s now at 17.9%.
School Innovations & Achievement works with the Newhall district and provides a number of services, which include communicating with parents regarding their children’s attendance.
“In all cases, our administrators and staff are really working hard on that communication,” said Kate Peattie, assistant superintendent of instructional services. “(Gilstrap is) really making those connections with parents around how they can help and support students in getting them to school and keeping them at school.”
“You could see with the data, the numbers are still much higher than we would want to be,” she added. “The work that staff did last year and building those connections with parents and families has created this culture of improvement. We just need to continue to do that with the chronic absentee piece.”