SSUSD raising the bar to improve attendance

SSUSD raising the bar to improve attendance

Sierra Sands schools raising the bar to improve attendance



(Ridgecrest, CA) Sierra Sands Unified School District has a new goal to help boost student achievement, and Superintendent Ernie Bell said he’s hopeful parents will rally around raising attendance rates if the district can communicate its importance.

To ensure students are staying on track, district leaders said they would like for each student to have at least a 95 percent attendance rate. That’s nine absences a year, or one per month.

“We have a very tight-knit community, and our community members–from the parents to city leaders–are extremely involved in education,” Bell said. “I think where we’re lacking is in communicating exactly what our attendance problems are, and how they are having an impact on students’ lives.”

Last year the district’s chronic absenteeism rates reached 11.7 percent–slightly more than the state average of 11.1 percent. California defines chronic absenteeism as missing 10 percent or more of the typical 180-day school year, or the equivalent of at least one month of school, due to excused and unexcused absences, as well as out-of-school suspensions.

Research has long shown that students who are chronically absent are less likely to reach proficiency in reading by third grade–a common benchmark for when students stop learning to read and begin reading to learn.  As early as sixth grade, chronic absenteeism has been identified as an indicator that a student will later drop out of high school. Even among those who do graduate, those students who were chronically absent are far less likely to graduate college.

In some cases, especially among younger children, educators have reported that parents don’t understand that serious learning is taking place. Even in kindergarten, school leaders said that students are actually learning information they need to have to be successful in first grade. 

School officials in Sierra Sands note that isolation in the valley is a contributing factor to student absences. If a student or their parent has to go out of town to see a doctor, for instance, they’re likely to miss at least one school day. Such an absence is considered ‘excused,’ if the appointment is for the student but the district said that as even excused absences accumulate, students are missing out on vital instruction time.  If the trip is for the parent or another family member, it is not excused.

“We’ve got to get the word out to these kids that they can’t miss that much school,” said JoAnne McClelland, the district’s attendance supervisor. “But we also need to re-educate parents that it doesn’t matter if absences are excused or unexcused, they are still missing instruction. Students need to be in school every day to be successful. No amount of bookwork or worksheets can replace in-class instruction or engagement with a teacher”.

To help communicate the importance of daily attendance, the district recently implemented Attention2Attendance (A2A), an early warning and intervention system that tracks student attendance and sends letters home to families when their child is trending toward being chronically absent.

Some families may have already received a letter last week. To those families, and any parent wanting to know more about issues surrounding attendance, the district is eager to help.

“We need to have a system in place–which is why we’re now using A2A–that will provide us with a way to not just notify parents about missed days but to get them involved in dealing what we’re doing,” Bell said. “They need to know the importance of being in school.”

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