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September 5, 2017

CONTACT:  Lana Lee, (973) 643-3876 (office) |(609) 651-5855 (cell) | llee@acnj.org

Nearly Half of Newark High Schoolers Missing Too Much School
New Report Explores the Complexities of Curbing Chronic Absenteeism and its Solutions

Nearly half of Newark’s high school students were chronically absent during the 2015-16 school year, according to a report released today by Advocates for Children of New Jersey (ACNJ). Despite efforts to improve attendance in recent years, this rate has remained relatively unchanged since 2010 and is almost triple the state average.

The report, Showing Up Matters: A Look at Absenteeism Inside Newark’s High Schools, found that 48 percent of Newark Public Schools’ 9-12th graders were chronically absent that year, compared to 23 percent of the district’s K-8th graders.

Based on 180-day school year, any student who misses 18 days or more of excused or unexcused days per year, is considered “chronically absent.” Missing just two days per month has a direct correlation with lower academic achievement and higher dropout rates.

“The data tells us that students will never achieve their full potential if they are not in school,” ACNJ President and CEO Cecilia Zalkind said. “Once a Newark ninth-grader misses 10 percent or more of school days, that child has more than a 40 percent chance of failing to graduate on time. On the other hand, students with good attendance have a graduation rate of 86 percent, close to the state average of 90 percent.”

“In addition to analyzing district and state data, we also conducted focus groups and interviews to get first-hand accounts of what the data can’t tell us – why so many high schoolers are missing so much school,” explained Cynthia Rice, ACNJ’s senior policy analyst and co-author of report. “Discussions with students, parents and staff revealed a wide disconnect between some school policies and the day-to-day reality of teachers, students and families.”

From how and when attendance is taken to how often phone calls home are made, attendance policies and their implementation were inconsistent among and within Newark Public Schools.

The report found that Newark’s poor school attendance has many causes, including:

  • School disengagement: Students felt discouraged by their academic performance or disconnected from curriculum, leading to more absences.

  • Social-emotional health: Students need social-emotional support when facing community violence, depression, anxiety and abuse or neglect.

  • Distance from school: Students face long walking commutes up to 2.5 miles.

  • Personal safety: Students often feel unsafe walking to/from school and may feel bullied by students in school.

  • Parental support: Parents and adults may view students as more independent, giving them a choice of whether to attend school.

  • Student responsibilities: Older students may have family responsibilities like child care or employment that take priority over attendance.

Between eighth and ninth grade, when students transition from middle to high school, attendance patterns changed significantly, from 25 to 38 percent of chronically absent students during the 2015-16 school year. The rate steadily increased in older grades. By their last year of high school, 59 percent of 12th graders were chronically absent.

“While the data is sobering, the start of the school year represents a critical opportunity to make every school day count, “said Zalkind. “Our report found some promising practices and pockets of success inside Newark high schools, but these efforts underscore the need for a broader, systemic approach with strong leadership and strong relationships.”

“School efforts to reduce absenteeism require consistency and persistence, buy-in from staff and sufficient support and training,” explained Peter Chen, policy counsel and co-author of the report. “Many factors outside school impact attendance, but what school leaders and staff do matters enormously in improving attendance.”

With school attendance stated as a priority for the district and the City, as well as absenteeism being a key metric for school improvement under the federal Every Student Succeeds Act, efforts have been underway to address the barriers keeping kids from attending school every day. During the 2016-17 school year, Newark Public Schools required each principal to develop an attendance strategy to reduce absenteeism in their school.

ACNJ’s recommendations for Newark Public Schools

  • Foster supportive leadership in school principals and administrators.

  • Review attendance data early and regularly.

  • Support trusting relationships between students and staff.

  • Provide professional development and support for social-emotional learning.

  • Apply attendance and other policies consistently.

  • Build in routine communication to students and parents.

  • Align and re-evaluate other policies to encourage attendance.

ACNJ’s recommendations for the City of Newark and community-based organizations

  • Improve public safety near schools.

  • Coordinate attendance data sharing with schools.

  • Develop and launch a community campaign around chronic absenteeism.

  • Provide supports for students with social-emotional health needs.

  • Engage parents on the importance of regular attendance in high school.

  • Track student attendance at school.Advocates for Children of New Jersey.

Read the report and view interactive data.


Advocates for Children of New Jersey is the trusted, independent voice putting children’s needs first for more than 35 years.  Our work results in better laws and policies, more effective funding and stronger services for children and families.  And it means that more children are given the chance to grow up safe, healthy, and educated.  For more information, visit www.acnj.org.  Follow ACNJ on Twitter @acnjforkids and on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/acnjforkids.



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