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Editorial: New state bill addresses adverse affects of chronic absence in grade school

By Editorial Board
On March 26, 2014

Legislators in Connecticut are considering a bill to address chronic absences in schools. The bill calls for districts where 10 percent of students or more are chronically absent to establish a school attendance review team to address the problem. Districts with a school that has a chronic absence rate of 15 percent or more would be subjected to the same course of action.
This bill would shift the traditional approach that has been taken when looking at school absences. Generally speaking, schools currently focus on daily attendance during which there may be a fluctuating amount of absences due to illness or other reasons. This bill would cause them to look for chronic absence and students with repeated absences.
"If you look at eighth-graders, the students who are chronically absent are more likely to drop out of high school than those with the lowest [grade point averages]," said Rep. Andy Fleischmann, co-chairman of the education committee. "Chronic absence is a stronger predictor."
And chronic absence is a prevalent issue in Connecticut school districts. According to The Hartford Courant, 11.5 percent of students about were chronically absent last year, with rates for high school students almost twice that of elementary and middle school students. State data also revealed that black students are about twice as likely and Hispanic students are more than twice as likely as white students to be chronically absent.
According to the bill, chronic absence is defined as any child who has 18 or more unexcused absences in a school year. There has been some push for the bill to reflect the state definition of chronic absence which includes both excused and unexcused absences. However, the law should generally focus on unexcused absences as excused absences, such as illness or family vacations planned ahead of time, are not really indicative of a student likely to drop out.
When dealing with the issue, these review teams should also involve the parents. It is possible that they may not know their child is missing class or they may be unaware of just how serious the matter is and how it can affect their child's development. Informing and involving them can lead to meaningful action to curtail their child's attendance issues.
In general, this bill would be a good step forward in addressing the issue of chronic absence at an earlier age and getting all necessary parties involved.

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