LOS ANGELES — The Los Angeles Unified School District marked Attendance Matters Day Sept. 7, when the district tries to find students who have stopped attending classes and get them to return to school.
The annual event — now in its 10th year — used to be called Student Recovery Day, but has been rebranded.
LAUSD Superintendent Austin Beutner began the day at David Starr Jordan High School in Watts to discuss student recovery issues. Following his appearance at the school, Beutner made home visits in the vicinity.
Non-attendance is a particularly vexing issue among the district’s youngest students, with new data showing that 1 in 4 kindergartners miss 15 or more days of school each year, the Los Angeles Daily News reported.
“I couldn’t believe that when I heard that,” Diane Pappas, the superintendent’s senior adviser, said last month as she presented the district’s plan to decrease chronic absences.
Schools get paid by the state for every day a child in school. In 2016-17, L.A. Unified lost about $630 million in revenues as more than 80,000 students — or 14.3 percent of all students — were chronically absent, which is defined as missing 15 or more days, according to an LAUSD Advisory Task Force report, the Daily News reported.
This year’s message to parents and school staff is: Keep the number of days any student is absent to seven or less. And parents will start seeing that message at their schools, according to the Daily News.
When he was introduced as the new superintendent in May, Beutner said that if the district can turn 8,000 to 10,000 kids into better attenders, “they’ll learn, and absenteeism matters to the whole classroom because of corresponding revenues from the state.”
But even more important than the loss of revenue is the learning loss, according to the district. Fewer absences mean higher student achievement.
Children who are chronically absent in preschool, kindergarten, and first grade are much less likely to read at grade level by the third grade, according to a task force report last year. Students who cannot read at grade level by the end of third grade are four times more likely than proficient readers to drop out of high school. And irregular attendance can be a better predictor than test scores of whether students will drop out before graduation.
African-American students have the highest percentage of absences, the Daily News reported. And among all ethnicities except Asian, the rates of absences are higher among less affluent families.
This year, the district is making sure parents at LAUSD schools are educated about the importance of good attendance at orientation meetings held at each principal’s discretion. At the orientations, parents are told that research shows there is a strong correlation between attendance and student achievement.
According to the Daily News, the district’s plans to attack absences this year include a direct mail/postcard campaign; phone calls to parents throughout the year; attendance improvement incentives through rewards to students; counseling to students and families; and Student Attendance Matters events, including a Dawn Patrol program that will provide support to schools with higher chronic absence rates.
The district will mail 190,000 postcards during the school year to households that have students who have been or are on track to become chronically absent, the Daily News reported. Last year in a pilot program, it mailed 24,000 postcards.
This year’s mail campaign is expected to generate up to 270,000 days of additional attendance and $17 million in additional revenue, according to the newspaper.