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What’s Working: How Oregon and Ohio Are Winning the Fight Against Chronic Absence

This article is part of the “What’s Working” series, which highlights promising practices for helping to close the graduation gap in communities and states across the country.

A rural school district embracing the culture of native families in Oregon and a professional football team showing up at kids’ doors in Ohio—these are just two of the creative ways states and communities are fighting chronic absence, as featured in a new report by Attendance Works titled, Portraits of Change: Aligning School and Community Resources to Reduce Chronic Absence.


The report also takes a deep dive into the pervasiveness of chronic absence, which Attendance Works usually defines as missing 18 days of the school year or more. This study uses the measurement from the Civil Rights Data Collection for School Year 2013- 14 (the only currently available national data set), defining chronic absence as missing 15 days or more.


Portraits of Change reports that one out of 10 schools experiences extreme chronic absence, in which 30 percent or more of students are chronically absent. This increases the likelihood students won’t be able to read well by third grade, makes them more likely to fail classes in middle school, and increases their odds of dropping out in high school.


Who is Most Affected?


Chronic absence disproportionately affects low-income students, students of color, and students with disabilities, but children in poverty are two to three times more likely to be chronically absent, says the report. High schools also have the highest rates of chronic absence, though it can start as early as preschool and kindergarten.
Attendance Works is a national partner of America’s Promise Alliance. Are you a partner who has a report or initiative you think we should cover? Email Eboni-Rose Thompson.


Urban areas are more likely to experience high levels of chronic absence than rural communities, with two exceptions: Wyoming and California. The report posits that California may have lower levels in urban communities because they have more resources, such as people, programs, and community partners.


“Urban school districts, which have more kids generally and more kids who are disadvantaged, are more likely to have the resources to put in place systems to support attendance and reduce chronic absence,” said Attendance Works Executive Director Hedy Chang. “This is even more true in a state that is highly decentralized where, for example, it is up to each district to decide what data system it will use.”


Chang added that urban school districts may be more likely to have partner agencies in the community with the right resources.As Oregon and Ohio demonstrate, there are a variety of ways to reduce chronic absence in rural and urban communities alike.


Oregon Increases Attendance by Embracing Native American Culture


When Oregon learned that nearly one-third of its American Indian/ Alaska Native students were chronically absent, lawmakers created the Tribal Attendance Pilot Project (TAPP), a $1.5 million effort working to build trust between native families and the public school system, which has a long history of trying to strip native children of their culture.


TAPP employs family advocates to make personal connections with families and create individual family plans and student incentives to improve attendance. Other TAPP schools have worked to embrace Native American culture and languages through their curriculum.


Chronis Absenteeism


Along with reducing rates of chronic absence, TAPP has drastically reduced truancy and seen improved relations with a local juvenile court system.


“The introduction of attendance assemblies, tracking attendance in each class, and monthly attendance challenges is building a school-wide culture of attendance,” the report says.


Social Emotional Learning, Phone Banks, and Football Tackle Attendance in Ohio


When the Cleveland Metropolitan School District launched the “Get 2 School. You Can Make It” campaign in 2015, it reduced chronic absence from 35 to 29 percent. The district serves over 39,000 students, mostly from low-income families and nearly two-thirds African American.


The campaign included phone banking, canvassing, college scholarship opportunities, giveaway incentives, social media, celebrations, and mentoring. The Cleveland Brown football team got involved by hand-delivering clothes to more than 2,000 students after they learned not that having suitable clothes to wear to school was keeping a lot of students at home.


Overall, the school district credits their success to a deep commitment from school leadership and the community, a focus on social and emotional learning, and professional development gatherings and coaching support for teachers and administrators working in the lowest-performing schools.


For more examples of states and communities successfully reducing chronic absence, read Portraits of Change, or hear directly from Oregon and Ohio officials in thiswebinar.


Learn more about the GradNation State Activation initiative

TheGradNation State Activation initiative is a collaboration between America’s Promise Alliance and Pearson to increase high school graduation rates by encouraging statewide innovation and collaboration, sharing that knowledge and replicating what works, and developing successful models all states can replicate.


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