Hawkins schools addressing ‘chronic’ absenteeism in 2013-14

Jeff Bobo • Aug 8, 2013 at 12:47 AM

ROGERSVILLE — Hawkins County’s schools regularly exceed state ADA (average daily attendance) goals, and maintain an impressive truancy level right around 2 percent of the overall student body.

Second-year attendance supervisor Greg Sturgill told the Hawkins County Board of Education during its Aug. 1 meeting that those numbers can be greatly attributed to his predecessor, Steve Starnes.

But one area Sturgill said will be a focus for improvement in 2013-14 is chronically absent students.

System-wide, ADA in Hawkins County has fluctuated between 94 and 95 percent over the past four school years, well above the state ADA goal of 93 percent.

And although the truancy level rose to 2.4 percent in 2012-13, the three previous school years it was 1.98 percent, 1.77 percent and 1.72 percent, respectively.

However, the percentage of students who are chronically absent — missing 16 days or more in a school year, excused absences or not — has hovered in the middle to low teens over the past four school years.

In 2009-10, 15.99 percent of the Hawkins County student population was chronically absent, followed by 14.77 percent in 2010-11, 11.33 percent in 2011-12 and 13.25 percent this past 2012-13 school year.

Sturgill told the BOE that 13.25 percent translates into 943 students across the system.

There’s no one age group affected by chronic absenteeism. Sturgill said it’s across the board, K-12.

Studies show, however, that chronic absenteeism at an early age sets a tone for low achievement throughout a student’s career.

“Nationwide, chronic absence in kindergarten is associated with lower academic performance, and the impact is twice as great if they’re chronically absent in first grade as well,” Sturgill said. “It shows lower test scores throughout (a student’s educational career).

“Chronically absent in kindergarten translates to 15 percent lower literacy scores and 12 percent lower math skills — just from missing 10 percent of the school year.”

Study data also indicate that of the kindergarten and first-grade students who miss nine days or fewer in both grades, 64 percent read at their grade level by third grade.

Only 43 percent of students who missed nine days or more in either kindergarten or first grade read at their grade level by third grade.

Only 41 percent of chronically absent students who missed 18 days or more in either kindergarten or first grade read at grade level in third grade.

Only 17 percent of students who missed 18 days or more in both kindergarten and first grade read at grade level by the third grade.

“We know once they get to the third grade, their chances of getting back up to grade level (reading) are dramatically declined,” Sturgill added.

The strategy for addressing chronic absenteeism will start with an awareness program, and Sturgill has produced an attendance awareness video that will be posted on the county school system website for students and parents to view.

Sturgill is also working with community stakeholders to develop a low-cost and no-cost incentives program to inspire students to have good attendance across the school system.

“The first step to solve this problem is awareness,” Sturgill told the BOE. “Make sure everyone knows what it is. Some parents don’t realize their children are missing this much because those days are excused. They have doctor’s notes and they don’t get calls from truancy officers, so they simply don’t realize they’re missing that much.

“We need help and support from every stakeholder,” he added, “including parents, teachers, administration, Central Office, the school board and the community.”

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