New Jersey’s Federal Education Plan Recognizes that Showing Up Matters
Students cannot learn when they are not in school. Yet each year, thousands of New Jersey students miss so many school days that their academic future is threatened. During the 2014-15 school year, 136,000 or 10 percent of our state’s K-12 students were considered “chronically absent,” meaning that they missed 10 percent or more days of instruction. All it takes is a few absences a month, every month to place a student’s educational future at risk.
Absences impact students at every grade level—from kindergarten through 12th grade, but children of color and children from low-income families have the highest rate of absences, making them more likely to fall behind.
When grades and attendance are two critical indicators to student success, one cannot improve without the other. That’s why it is so exciting that the New Jersey Department of Education has made improving student attendance a focus of its federal education plan. The new federal education law, the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), replaces the former education accountability law – No Child Left Behind, and allows states more flexibility to shape their education policies. Under ESSA, in its recent draft proposal, New Jersey has included chronic absenteeism as a benchmark for its accountability system for measuring school quality, climate and safety. The state’s proposed plan addresses the importance of attendance as a predictor of student success and requires schools that fall below attendance benchmarks to prepare a plan to reduce absences.
Improving attendance has long been overlooked as an educational strategy to enhance student performance. Some school administrators might feel it is beyond their control and there is little they can do to get kids to show up to class. But reducing absences is achievable.
When it comes to chronic absenteeism, what schools do matter. And we don’t have to look beyond our state borders to find school districts taking the lead. A number of schools are already using data to drive decisions and best practices. Interventions like providing mentors to at-risk students or incentives like pizza parties for best classroom attendance are just a few examples. Another key is cultivating a school climate that is both warm and engaging, so that kids want to come to class.
While there will always be students that remain chronically absent, the state’s bold step requires schools to be more intentional about how they identify students struggling with attendance and address it. No education reform initiative will ever be successful if kids are not in school. In the development of its federal education plan, New Jersey has taken a giant step in recognizing the strong link between attendance and academic achievement and the role schools have towards that end. This increased accountability provides students with the best chance to make chronic absenteeism a thing of the past.