Last month I took the opportunity to share information with you regarding the importance of student school attendance.  Because of the significance of this topic, I felt the need to follow up with additional thoughts and ideas on student attendance.  

At a recent District Leadership Team meeting, we spent some time looking at Emporia school attendance rates at each grade level and compared that to the state of Kansas attendance data.  As we explored the data, one of the things that became clear is how attendance patterns are set at an early age.  After critically looking at Emporia school data, one of the pieces that stood out was the number of students who miss more than 15 days of school as kindergartners.  We know that kindergarten helps to set the stage for a student’s school career in many different ways and is a strong predictor of how successful students will be as they progress through the educational system.  Two of the pillars of the #KansansCan Vision are Kindergarten Readiness and Post Secondary Success. Because of the relationship between kindergarten attendance and long- term student success, it is vital to begin consistent attendance habits/patterns at an early age.

The current data from the Kansas State Department of Education  from the 2016-17 school year indicates that 20.7% of Emporia’s kindergarten students are “Chronically Absent” as compared to the state chronic absenteeism rate of 11.4%.  “Chronically Absent” is defined as students who miss 15 or more days of school each year.  

Attendance data can be examined in a variety of ways.  In the days of the Quality Performance Accreditation System, or QPA as many will recall, school absenteeism was viewed through the lens of “what percent of students were in attendance on a daily basis.”  If we refer back to that data, a six-year average for our overall K-12 attendance rate at Emporia Public Schools was 94.7%.  During that six-year period, the highest rate was 96.6% and the lowest attendance rate was 93.5%.  At first glance, many of us would equate a 94.7% attendance rate to an A if we were using a standard school grading system.   

Currently, we are entering into a new school accreditation cycle called the Kansas Education Systems Accreditation or KESA.  As we dig deeper into the KESA process, we are being challenged to look at the data through multiple lenses.  As we begin to apply those different lenses, one might offer several different perspectives:   

  • We might begin to evaluate the number of students who are missing from school on a given day. In this case, if 6.3% (100% – 94.7%) of our students are missing each day, that would equate to approximately 290 students absent from school on a daily basis.
  • Another lens might spotlight the fact that transition grades (kindergarten, sixth and ninth grades) seem to have higher rates of chronic absenteeism.
  • Yet another lens to employ is the potential impact of absenteeism on entire classrooms. The data suggests that peers of absent students may experience reductions in their achievement levels compared to students that are not dealing with chronically absent classmates.

At our October Board of Education study session, board members, administrators, community members, parents and students in attendance spent time evaluating Emporia Public Schools’ attendance data.  We will continue to look at, discuss, and further define possible solutions to help our students be successful in school.  The first step is helping our community begin to understand the overall importance of students being in school.  

This past week we had the opportunity to hear Kansas State Department of Education Commissioner Dr. Randy Watson speak to our K-8 staff.  He shared the following data with administrators which  tied directly to our ongoing attendance conversations.  The three biggest predictors of success for a student not living in poverty as an adult are:  

  • Reading on grade level by third grade;
  • Graduating from high school;
  • Missing less than 10% of school as a kindergartener.

We know there are many factors that contribute to helping our students achieve success.  The more knowledge we have, along with access to accurate data, allow us to make connections and create opportunities not only for our students, but for our communities.  The final phase of the journey is to help all of our students achieve some form of post secondary success, whether that be a certification, a two-year degree  or a four-year degree.  Based on the knowledge we have of the importance of kindergarten attendance, know that making sure our kindergartners start strong attendance patterns will ultimately affect the level of post secondary success for the class of 2030.

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