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September 10, 2015
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For Immediate Release
Contact:  Nancy Parello | nparello@acnj.org | (973) 643-3876 |

177 NJ School Districts Have Unacceptably High Chronic Absentee Rates

Daily Attendance Essential to K-12 Students’ Success
Low Cost Solutions Available for Schools, Two NJ Schools Implementing

Newark, NJ – More than 125,000 or about 10 percent of New Jersey’s K-12 students were considered “chronically absent” during the 2013-2014 school year, according to an Advocates for Children of New Jersey report, released today.

Using New Jersey Department of Education data, Showing Up Matters: The State of Chronic Absenteeism in New Jersey, found that the problem was most evident in 177 school districts that had 10 percent or more of their K-12 chronically absent, representing about 76,000 students who are chronically absent. “Chronically absent” is defined as missing 10 percent or more excused or unexcused school days.  Based on a 180-day school year, any student who misses 18 days or more per year—or about two days every month, is considered “chronically absent”.  

“No matter the age, when students are missing too much school, their chances of academic success are dramatically reduced,” said Cecilia Zalkind, Executive Director of ACNJ, a statewide child advocacy organization. “Schools must take the proven steps that improve attendance.”

According to Attendance Works, a national and state initiative that promotes better policies and practices around school attendance, over half of chronically absent kindergartners become chronically absent first graders and demonstrate lower gains in math, reading and general knowledge in first grade. When students miss too much school early on, the negative impact on their learning can be long-term, including reading problems, lower test scores, poor attendance in future school years and weaker social-emotional skills.

The report includes on how best to address chronic absenteeism. Recommendations for schools include:

  •    Send the message to parents “early and often.” Schools play an important role in promoting attendance by helping parents understand, particularly in the early ears, that coming to school every day is important for their child’s educational success.
  •    Identify problems at the beginning of the school year.  In order for intervention to take  place early, school districts should analyze absentee data from the first weeks of school.
  •    Contact parents immediately when children begin to show a pattern of too many absences.  Making connections with family members as soon as a problem is identified is very important.
  •    Foster positive relationships with families.  Improving student attendance can be linked to the relationships between school and family.
  •   Rewards work for excellent or improved attendance.  Make sure that good or improved attendance is celebrated.  Such positive reinforcements can include small prizes, certificates or pizza parties.

The report also includes steps parents can take to improve their children’s attendance, including talking to their children about why going to school is so important, establishing a home climate that leads to good school attendance and developing a “back-up plan” when family issues arise, and children need to get to school.  

In Paterson, School 5, a K-6 school with more than 95 percent of its students considered “economically disadvantaged,” embraced the opportunity to improve attendance of implementing many of these best practices, such as contacting each family after an absence.  Under Sandra Diodonet, School 5’s former principal, leadership, chronic absenteeism declined from 152 students in the 2012-2013 school year to just 36 in the following year—a 76 percent decrease.

Similarly, former Superintendent Lynda Anderson-Towns of Woodbine School district began educating faculty and parents on the importance of coming to school with big banners displayed in Spanish and English highlighting the importance for students to come to school every day. The message is repeated throughout the year in school newsletters, parent meetings and other communications. After implementing best practices, in 2013-2014 school years, there were only three chronically absent children out of 85 K-12 students.

“We see this report as the first step, in bringing attention to this issue. Working collaboratively with our state and local partners is the next in making sure that more children are attending school and ready to learn,” said Zalkind. 


Advocates for Children of New Jersey  (ACNJ) works with local, state and federal leaders to identify and implement changes that will benefit New Jersey’s children. www.acnj.org

Advocates for Children of New Jersey

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