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For Immediate Release: November 20, 2017

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

8,000 Fewer NJ Students Missing Too Much School, but More Work Needed
Assembly Bill Aims to Help Struggling Schools Address Chronic Absenteeism

TRENTON, N.J.— Roughly 8,000 fewer New Jersey students were chronically absent between the 2014-15 and 2015-16 school years, according to a new report released today by Advocates for Children of New Jersey (ACNJ). The number of K-12 students identified as missing too much school fell from 136,000 to 129,000 children in total, nudging the statewide chronic absenteeism rate from 10.3 to 9.7 percent.

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In its third annual report, “Showing Up Matters: The State of Chronic Absenteeism in New Jersey,” ACNJ also saw a decrease in the number of high-absentee school districts (districts with 10 percent or more of their students chronically absent) from 216 to 192 school districts. “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 and suspensions.

“Since taking the lead on this issue two years ago and showing how chronic absenteeism is a solvable but silent and pervasive problem, school districts and cities from across the state have demonstrated that improving student attendance is possible,” said Cecilia Zalkind, President and CEO of Advocates for Children of New Jersey. “Now is the moment for our state to follow their lead and act on this critical issue.”

ACNJ is calling for the State Assembly to vote on a chronic absenteeism bill (A-2352) which unanimously passed in the New Jersey Senate (S-447) this past June. The bill would require schools to include chronic absenteeism in their school performance reports. Those with 10 percent or more of their student body identified as being chronically absent would have to develop plans to address the issue. If the bill does not pass by the end of 2017, it would have to be reintroduced in the next legislative session. 

“When students become chronically absent, they risk falling behind academically. Even the best educational reforms will not be able to succeed if students are not in school to learn,” said Assemblywoman Valerie Vainieri Huttle (D-Bergen), the main sponsor of the Assembly version of bill. “ACNJ’s report shows that when school districts and communities sit down to look at the reasons why students are missing school, we can begin to develop plans and solutions to get to the root of the problems.”

Since the release of ACNJ’s second report last year, New Jersey has joined 33 other states and the District of Columbia in using student absences as a measure for school quality and success under the state’s Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) plan. 

In addition, districts and schools throughout New Jersey have moved forward in encouraging regular attendance, from ramping up communication efforts among families to including chronic absenteeism as a core part of professional development among staff.

In Pemberton, the district has set a goal to reduce absenteeism by 10 percent and to develop action plans at every school. According to Pemberton Superintendent Tony Trongone, in order to meet that goal, the most important step has been listening to students and families about the challenges they face.

“The key to reducing absenteeism has been digging deep into the reasons for student absence and executing strategies targeting the reason. Right now, we are working on how to develop new strategies to address student trauma, which we have found, through data, is more prevalent than we intuitively imagined among our students,” Trongone said.

With more than one in every four preschoolers chronically absent during the 2015-16 school year, the report focuses on efforts to improve attendance among our youngest learners. 

"Creating healthy habits are essential. Our early childhood teams are beginning to realize the impact chronic absenteeism in preschool has on a student's entire education,” Long Branch Superintendent Michael Salvatore said. “Attendance data will remain a hot topic on every level for us, but especially in our early learning programs and action plans. Our hopes are to correct this issue early and change the trajectory of learning for our children." 

The report also draws attention to at-risk groups where absenteeism may be hiding in plain sight. Children of color, children in low-income families and children in special education are more likely to have higher rates of chronic absenteeism.

“A school district may have a low rate of absenteeism among the entire student population, but when you take a closer look, you may see pockets of high absences among certain groups which require different solutions and interventions to improve attendance,” said Cynthia Rice, ACNJ senior policy analyst and one of the co-authors of the report.

Consistent with previous years, poor attendance in New Jersey remained highest in the very early grades and in high school, where 11.4 percent of kindergartners and 16.4 percent of high school juniors and seniors were chronically absent.


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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