How to win the absenteeism war

New Brockton Elementary School Principal Dr. Jason Hadden outlines student chronic absenteeism at the Children’s Policy Council of Coffee County meeting Aug. 28.

How to reduce student absenteeism was the topic of discussion at the Children’s Policy Council of Coffee County meeting Aug. 28.

More than 8 million students in the United States miss nearly a month of school each year, New Brockton Elementary School Principal Dr. Jason Hadden told those attending the meeting held at the First United Methodist Church of Enterprise Family Life Center. “That is 16 percent of the student population in America.”

The local CPC is part of the Alabama Children’s Policy Council whose focus is to support providers of children’s services as they develop plans to address the needs of children from birth to age 19.

The local group meets monthly, according to CPC of Coffee County Chairman Rodrick Caldwell, adding that those interested in more information may call Coffee County Family Services at (334) 393-8538.

“Chronic absenteeism is something we combat every day,” Hadden said. “All school systems fight this. It is a hot topic, especially since it is one of the indicators that we are judged on on the state report card.”

The state report card is an annual assessment from the Alabama Department of Education that uses verifiable data indicators in accordance with a 2012 law requiring the use of letter grades for schools and district report cards. The first report cards, without letter grades, were released in December 2016. The first letter-grade report cards were released in February 2017.

Under the system, schools are graded on academic achievement and growth, graduation rate, college and career readiness and chronic absenteeism.

Chronic absenteeism is defined by the department of education as missing a total of 15 or more days, excused or unexcused, Hadden explained.

“You have to look at excused and unexcused absences and find out the source,” Hadden advised. “Attendance improves when schools engage students and parents in a positive way and when schools provide mentors for those that are chronically absent, it’s a true partnership.”

Research indicates that missing 10 percent of the school year—an average of 18 days—negatively affects a student’s academic performance, Hadden said. “That is two days a month and that’s how we define chronic absenteeism.”

Hadden said that by the time a student is in the sixth grade, chronic absenteeism is a leading indicator of whether that student will drop out of high school. “When students improve their attendance rates they improve their academic prospects and chances for graduating.”

Hadden said the Coffee County Schools partner with the Department of Human Resources, the Juvenile Probation office and the court system.

New Brockton Elementary School has an attendance committee that meets weekly to assess potential chronic absenteeism, Hadden said. “We’ve implemented a ‘Student in Good Standing’ policy that states that when a child misses five or more days, they are not in good standing and that means they cannot participate in extracurricular activities, such as the Fall Festival.

“At the high school level the students cannot attend football games, participate in football games and their parking pass is revoked,” Hadden explained. “To give you an idea of how serious we are about chronic absenteeism and truancy, we will go to the Circuit Clerk and file a petition on that child.

“For an elementary school child who cannot drive themselves to school, we go pick up the parents,” he added. “That’s how seriously we take absenteeism because it does affect our students’ success.

“One day those kids at my school are going to be adult citizens in our towns and that affects us as a community,” Hadden said. “So yes, we do want to positively combat truancy and chronic absenteeism. When absenteeism reaches over 8 million a month in the United States, that’s a problem.”

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