The Key to Improving Graduation Rates: Improving Attendance

The world of education in New York State continues to be abuzz with the future of graduation requirements in the state.. Will the Regents be abandoned? Decoupled from graduation?  Remain in place? And, although much lower on the buzz list, will course requirements be changed?  Seat time? And a wide range of ever changing questions.

All the responsibility of a 64-member Commission, the Blue Ribbon Commission is divided into sub committees, “Program Requirements and Learning Experiences” and “Measurements and Assessments,” led by Board members Chin and Finn as well as both parent and student advisory committees. The entire Commission is reviewing the vast literature and will probably have recommendations to the Board of Regents by the fall.

State Ed will be releasing the 2018 Cohort Graduation data shortly, kids who graduated in June/August 2022. Due to the pandemic State Ed made a number of temporary changes in requirements, see the changes for the 2017 cohort, the 2021 graduates below,

To address the situation caused by the mandatory school closures, the Regents took several regulatory actions regarding the assessment requirements that students must meet to earn diplomas …. Generally, to earn a NYS high school diploma, a student must pass four Regents Exams and choose a graduation pathway, which may include a fifth Regents Exam. The Regents’ actions included the following:

  • The Board canceled the January, June, and August Regents exams and allowed certain students to be exempt from the requirement to take a Regents exam at the end of their course of study. ​
  • To be eligible for the exam exemption, a student had to demonstrate proficiency in the subject by passing the Regents level course.  ​

The necessary Regents Exam exemptions were a factor in the 2016 and 2017 Cohort graduation rates; however, the Department cannot say to what extent. The consistent long-term trend demonstrates the Board and Department reasonably adjusted graduation requirements to ensure students were not unfairly impacted by circumstances created by the pandemic. ​The 2020 and 2021 exemptions will affect the graduation rates for future cohorts of students as well. ​

district-by-district breakdown of exemptions granted to graduates is available on the NYSED website.

While the State breaks out the data by numerous groups: race, special education, ESL, as well as by school district it fails to investigate: who are the dropouts? What is a profile of a dropout? At the top of the list: chronic absenteeism. You can identify potential dropouts from the grade they enter school, absenteeism that increases throughout their time in school, increasing from grade to grade until they fail to graduate.

The US Department of Education in a report, Chronic Absenteeism in the Nation’s Schools, (Read report here) emphasizes the impact of absenteeism across the nation and the deep impact on children and families,

Why Chronic Absenteeism Matters: What the Research Says

Chronic absenteeism is widespread—about one out of every six students missed three weeks or more of school in 2015-16. That translates to more than 100 million school days lost. Research suggests the reasons for chronic absenteeism are as varied as the challenges our students and families face—including poor health, limited transportation, and a lack of safety — which can be particularly acute in disadvantaged communities and areas of poverty.

Whatever its causes, chronic absenteeism can be devastating:

·                                 Chronic absenteeism may prevent children from reaching early learning milestones.

Children who are chronically absent in preschool, kindergarten, and first grade are much less likely to read at grade level by the third grade. 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.

·                                 Irregular attendance can be a better predictor of whether students will drop out before graduation than test scores.

A study of public school students in Utah found that an incidence of chronic absenteeism in even a single year between 8th and 12th grade was associated with a seven-fold increase in the likelihood of dropping out.

·                                 Frequent absences from school can shape adulthood.

High school dropout, which chronically absent students are more likely to experience, has been linked to poor outcomes later in life, from poverty and diminished health to involvement in the criminal justice system.

Why Daily School Attendance Matters (Read here) explores recent research, it is a crisis and ignored in too many school districts.

A student is considered chronically absent if they miss only two days of school per month (18 days in a year), whether the absences are excused or unexcused. Research shows that by middle and high school, chronic absence is a leading warning sign that a student will drop out. This research from the National Center on Educational Statistics noted that differences in absentee rates and projections for graduation were observed as early as kindergarten. Those students who eventually dropped out of high school had missed significantly more days of school in first grade than their peers who later graduated from high school. Moreover, in a study by E. Allensworth and J. Q. Easton, (2005) called The On-Track Indicator as a Predictor of High School Graduation:

“In eighth grade, this [attendance] pattern was even more apparent and, by ninth grade, attendance was shown to be a key indicator significantly correlated with high school graduation” (Allenworth/Easton).

Their study found attendance is more predictive of dropout than test scores or other student characteristics. In fact, “9th grade attendance was a better predictor of [student] dropout than 8th grade test scores.”

Steps can be taken at the upper-grade levels, grades 7 through 12, and Attendance Works offers several suggestions to counter attitudes that prevent students from attending school. These suggestions include:

  • Incentives/rewards/recognition provided for good attendance;
  • Personal calls (to home, to students) as reminders; 
  • Adult mentors and after school leaders trained to reinforce the importance of attendance;
  • Curriculum that features engaging, team-based activities that students do not want to miss;  
  • Academic support provided to students who are struggling; 
  • Efforts to make school a place of success rather than a negative experience;
  • Engaging community partners, such as health providers and criminal justice agencies.

The Center for NYC Affairs at the New School University examined the data in a deeply disturbing report, A Better Picture of Poverty: What Chronic Absenteeism and Risk Load Reveal About NYC’s Lowest Income Elementary Schools (Read here).

New York City, to their credit, is concentrating on improving attendance; attendance data is monitored daily, every district has an attendance coordinator, every school has an attendance team, and superintendents are directed to closely monitor daily attendance.

Attendance is not sexy; abolishing the Regents garners thousands of lines in print and online. Reducing absenteeism is simply work, hard work without instant rewards. Interestingly we know what works, the evidence is overwhelming, the problem is getting schools to put their attendance plan in place and monitor every day. You can watch the attendance numbers creep up day by day; over time the actions become rote, more kids coming to school everyday and achievement creeps up along with the attendance numbers. 

The Blue Ribbon Commission should add the attendance problem to their list.

BTW, have you taken a Regents lately?   Try the English Regents here and/or the American History Regentxs multiple choice section here.

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