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Gov. Malloy and Commissioner Wentzell Release State Guide to Help School Districts in their Efforts to Further Reduce Chronic Absenteeism and Increase Attendance

(HARTFORD, CT) – Governor Dannel P. Malloy and State Department of Education (SDE) Commissioner Dianna R. Wentzell today announced the release of a new state guide that provides a framework for local and regional school districts to develop a strategic plan and implement interventions that will lead to the reduction of chronic absenteeism among students in pre-K through Grade 12.

The guide, Reducing Chronic Absence in Connecticut’s Schools: A Prevention and Intervention Guide for Schools and Districts, comes just as Connecticut’s chronic absenteeism rate reaches a historic low.

“Tackling chronic absenteeism is critical to improving outcomes for all of our students so that they receive an adequate education that prepares them to succeed in life,” Governor Malloy said. “We need to do everything we can to ensure that all students, regardless of the life circumstances into which they are born or what town or city they live in, receive a quality public education. Because of the recent efforts of teachers, school districts, the state, and families, nearly 10,000 more students are consistently attending class than four years ago. We need to do everything we can to make progress in our efforts to provide students with the best educational opportunities possible.”

“Addressing absenteeism is part of ensuring the highest-quality learning environments for our students – and it’s key to narrowing the achievement gap,” Lt. Governor Nancy Wyman said. “Connecticut has made historic investments in education over the past five years, test scores are up, and graduation rates are up. Underpinned by strong policy and Connecticut’s committed educators, this guide will help us build on that progress.”

Over the last school year, rates of chronic absenteeism in Connecticut schools fell in every student subgroup and in the state overall, continuing a trend that started during the 2012-13 school year. From the 2014-15 school year to the 2015-16 school year, the rate of chronic absence fell from 10.6 percent to 9.6 percent statewide.

Chronic absenteeism rates are at historic lows across the board for all subgroups of students as well. American Indian students, English language learners, and Asian students experienced the sharpest reductions in chronic absence from the 2014-15 to the 2015-16 school year with rates falling 19.2 percent, 14.9 percent, and 13.1 percent respectively.

“School districts across the state have been working hard to ensure that all of our students are in school and engaged, and today we are recognizing the result of their hard work,” Commissioner Wentzell said. “Connecticut is recognized as a national leader for the progress we are making with chronic absence, and that progress is the result of work that is happening in classrooms and schools across the state. I am so proud of our teachers and school leaders who are working with families and communities to ensure students are receiving the education they deserve, and I am inspired by the dedication.”

“Connecticut leads the way again in demonstrating how a state department of education can ensure students are in class so they can learn and thrive,” Hedy Chang, Executive Director of Attendance Works, a national and state initiative that promotes awareness of the important role that school attendance plays in achieving academic success, said. “Reducing Chronic Absence in Connecticut Schools offers educators and community partners a step-by-step guide for improving attendance. Its publication ensures that schools do not need to reinvent the wheel but can leverage what we already know works from around the country and in Connecticut. This invaluable resource strengthens and reinforces the strong foundation of state policy and practice which has already nurtured significant reductions in chronic absence.”

Recently, Connecticut received national recognition for its policies designed to reduce chronic absence, including provisions in the Every Student Succeeds Act Consolidated State Plan and the Next Generation Accountability System. Additionally, several school districts, including New Britain, Middletown, and Vernon were highlighted as national examples of what works for reducing chronic absences.

Reducing Chronic Absence in Connecticut Schools was created in response to legislation signed into law by Governor Malloy in July 2015 as a part of a comprehensive agenda to continue improving public education in the state. Public Act 15-225, An Act Concerning Chronic Absence, required the SDE – in consultation with the Interagency Council for Ending the Achievement Gap convened by Lt. Governor Wyman – to develop chronic absenteeism prevention and intervention guidance for use by local and regional boards of education. The guide is the result of a collaborative effort undertaken by the aforementioned entities alongside multiple nonprofit organizations, state agency representatives, child and family advocates, the Chronic Absenteeism Strategic Action Group, and Attendance Works.

Several districts in Connecticut are already implementing practices that are reducing the rate of chronic absence in their schools. Norwich Public Schools, an Alliance District, saw an overall reduction in chronic absence across the district and within all subgroups of students from the 2014-15 to the 2015-16 school year. In Norwich, the rate of chronic absence fell 28 percent from 13.4 percent to 9.7 percent overall. Among subgroups, students eligible for reduced price lunch and black students saw some of the sharpest reductions in chronic absenteeism, with rates falling 33 percent and 32 percent, respectively, from the 2014-15 to the 2015-16 school year.

Mahan School in Norwich has not only significantly reduced chronic absences in the last year, dropping from 8.2 percent to 2.3 percent, but the school is also make great strides academically. On average, high needs students at Mahan School have achieved 98.2 percent of their growth targets in math – the fourth highest percent of growth target achieved in in math in Connecticut.

“In the past several years, Norwich Public Schools has focused on reducing chronic absenteeism across the district,” Norwich Public Schools Superintendent Abby Dolliver said. “The district has invested financial resources from Alliance and Priority grant funding to support this work over the years. In an effort to ensure the sustainability of this important work, the district has established systems of data review, reporting, and action to ensure students are in school and ready to learn. Mahan's improvements are a result of a district-wide focus on reducing absenteeism and the dedication of school staff to ensuring students and families are supported with the resources needed to make education accessible to all students.”

“Thomas Mahan Elementary School is honored to share our success with Governor Malloy and Commissioner Wentzell,” Mahan School Principal Donna Funk said. “Mahan School is focused on providing our students with a strong foundation both academically and socially. We aspire to bridge the academic gaps students may have in order to equip them with the skills and the knowledge need for college and career. We build upon the strengths of each student while addressing any needs and challenges. Our success is a function of our collaboration with our families, community and staff.”

Chronic absence is defined as missing 10 percent or greater of the total number of days enrolled during the school year for any reason. It includes both excused, unexcused, out-of-school suspensions, and in-school suspensions that last more than one-half of the school day. For example, a student who has been enrolled for the first 30 school days at the beginning of the school year and has been absent three of those days is chronically absent.

Children living in poverty are more likely to be chronically absent at a young age because of challenges such as a lack of access to health care, housing insecurity, and unreliable transportation. They are also more likely to suffer academically from those missed days because their families often lack the resources to make up for lost time. Children who are chronically absent in both kindergarten and first grade are much less likely to read proficiently by the end of third grade. By sixth grade, chronic absence is a key early indicator of dropout from high school.

To learn more about chronic absenteeism and best practices that are being employed in Connecticut visit Attendance Works.

Juliet Manalan
Communications Director
Office of Lieutenant Governor Nancy Wyman
(o) 860.524.7377
(m) 860.913.7528
Twitter: @LGWyman
FB: Office of Lt. Governor Nancy Wyman