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Wednesday, September 14, 2016
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For Immediate Release
Contact:  Lana Lee | 973.643.3876 (office) | 609.651.5855 (cell) | llee@acnj.org

136,000 NJ Students Missing Too Much School
More Districts Step Up to Meet Challenge of Curbing Chronic Absenteeism

TRENTON, N.J.— More than one in 10 New Jersey K-12 students were considered “chronically absent” during the 2014-15 school year - roughly 136,000 children in total, according to a new report released today by Advocates for Children of New Jersey (ACNJ). 

In its second annual report, “Showing Up Matters: The State of Chronic Absenteeism in New Jersey,” ACNJ found that in 216 school districts, at least 10 percent of their K-12 students missed too much school, accounting for more than 90,000 kids. “Chronically absent” is defined as missing 10 percent or more of the school year, or about 18 days of instruction, including excused and unexcused absences.

“Absences add up and when kids miss valuable learning time, they are more likely to fall behind and miss critical milestones like reading proficiently by third grade and graduating high school,” said Cecilia Zalkind, ACNJ President and CEO. “The good news is that many schools and communities are taking proactive measures to help reverse this trend.”

At the Hedgepeth/Williams Middle School of the Arts in Trenton, where today’s event was held, attendance improved dramatically after school officials implemented a number of proven strategies to reduce absenteeism, such as early intervention, consistent messaging and greater efforts to work closely with students and their families. Their chronic absenteeism rate fell from nearly a quarter of children missing too much school to a rate of just 6 percent in one particular month. 

“We make every effort to help address the barriers that keep kids from coming to class. Whether it’s a postcard to the student saying, ‘Come back, we miss you,’ or a personal phone call from their teacher, our students know that we care for them and that their attendance matters,” Principal Adrienne Hill said.

“Students in high-poverty districts such as ours often face very real obstacles involving family responsibilities, difficulties at home, health problems, and transportation issues that affect their daily attendance,” said Lucy Feria, Interim Superintendent for Trenton Public Schools. “That’s why it’s critical that we identify at-risk students early on and help them get back on track.”

Trenton Mayor Eric Jackson applauded the school leadership’s efforts and echoed the importance of making every day count. Trenton launched “Capital City My Brother’s Keeper” initiative late last year in response to a national White House call for action to address persistent opportunity gaps in the lives of young men of color, with chronic absenteeism as one of the main focus areas.

“The simple truth is that when students miss too many days of instruction, the opportunity to succeed in school and reach their full potential is severely diminished. As a community, we need to leverage our resources and work collaboratively to give our children the best chance for a stronger future,” said Jackson.

Using New Jersey Department of Education data, the report found higher rates of chronic absenteeism among children of color, children in low-income families, and children in special education.

Poor attendance in New Jersey remained highest in the very early grades and in high school, where 12 percent of kindergarteners and 18 percent of high school juniors and seniors were chronically absent. 

In addition to Trenton, the report highlights success stories from Lakewood and Pemberton, as well as state and federal initiatives to drive down chronic absenteeism. 

In Lakewood, after realizing that a large number of students missed school because they were working to help their families make ends meet, district officials developed an alternative school that started later in the day to give kids more flexibility to attend class and meet their educational requirements. Lakewood High School’s chronic absenteeism rate fell from 32 percent in 2013–14 to 22 percent the following school year. 

In Pemberton, school staff identified students early in the school year who were most at risk of becoming chronically absent and provided supports to address their issues. The district saw an 11 percent drop in their chronic absenteeism rate between the 2013-14 and 2014-15 school years.

Key recommendations:

  • Chronic absenteeism is the “gateway” to other issues. Risk factors that impact school attendance include student/family health, transportation, conflicting work and school schedules, and weather and safety. ACNJ recommends a thorough review of both attendance data and school policies that can address the root causes driving absenteeism. 
  • New Jersey needs a definition for “chronic absenteeism.” In order to ensure that districts accurately collect the same data, a state definition is necessary. Bills A2352/S447, which are currently being considered in the New Jersey Legislature, would address this issue.
  • Schools must move past compliance. Reducing chronic absenteeism goes beyond just enforcing attendance rules. Improved school culture and meaningful student-staff connections, such as phone calls to parents or home visits, are essential.
  • Reviewing data “early and often” drives improvement. By reviewing absentee data in the first critical weeks of September, schools can prevent problems before they begin. 
  • Parents should play a role in identifying the problems and the solutions. Whether through focus groups, parent inclusion on attendance teams, surveys or other methods, ACNJ recommends that districts engage parents regularly to identify reasons for absenteeism and potential solutions.

“September is not only back to school for students, but it’s also Attendance Awareness Month,” said Cynthia Rice, ACNJ’s senior policy analyst and co-author of report. “We hope more schools and communities will follow in implementing promising and proven strategies to reduce absenteeism because this is an issue that has a lasting impact on educational and life outcomes.”


Due to discrepancies in reporting methods and available data among school districts between the 2013-14 and 2014-15 school year, the chronic absenteeism totals and percentages from this report cannot be compared with last year's report on chronic absenteeism.

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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