According to a report released September 14 by Advocates for Children of New Jersey, more than one in 10 K-12 students statewide, or about 136,000 children in 216 districts, were chronically absent from school during the 2014-15 academic year. During the 2013-14 year, more than 125,000 students and 177 districts suffered from high absenteeism, ACNJ reported.
ACNJ’s second annual report on statewide chronic absenteeism – defined as missing at least 10 percent of the school year, or 18 days – once again found the problem to be most prevalent among kindergartners and high school juniors and seniors. Low attendance also was more common among children of color and low-income or special-education students. Blacks and Hispanics made up 16 percent and 26 percent of the state’s total student population, respectively, but represented 25 percent and 32 percent of New Jersey’s chronically absent students, according to the report. Factors contributing to the poor attendance among these subgroups include unmanaged physical and mental health issues, lack of transportation, unstable housing, school suspensions and neighborhood violence, the report stated.
Besides statewide numbers, the report also provided local data. The counties with the highest chronic absenteeism rates were Cumberland (15 percent), Essex (15 percent) and Passaic (14 percent). New Jersey’s four state-run school districts had chronic absenteeism rates of 29 percent in Camden and Newark, 19 percent in Paterson and 15 percent in Jersey City. Additionally, half or more of all 11th and 12th graders in the Camden and Newark districts were chronically absent.
Release of the Report
ACNJ staffers were joined by state Sen. Diane Allen, who is sponsoring legislation to combat chronic absenteeism, and Assemblywoman Elizabeth Muoio (D-15) to discuss the latest findings.
Cecilia Zalkind, ACNJ’s president and chief executive, said schools and communities are taking measures to reverse the trend.
Wednesday morning’s news conference and panel discussion was held at the Hedgepath/Williams Middle School of the Arts in Trenton, where staff members implemented strategies that led to a drop in the chronic absenteeism rate from nearly 25 percent to 6 percent in one particular month, organizers say. In addition to highlighting the progress at the middle school, ACNJ’s report shines a spotlight on efforts to reduce absenteeism in the Lakewood and Pemberton school districts.
After last year’s report, state lawmakers introduced legislation to require the Department of Education to include chronic absenteeism data in annual School Report Cards and to require campuses where 10 percent or more of students are chronically absent to develop corrective action plans. That data is actually on the School Performance Reports currently.
State Sen. Diane Allen, a co-sponsor of the bill (A2352/S447) to combat chronic student absenteeism, said Wednesday the Legislature needs to make sure it is providing school districts with the funds and resources to help children who regularly miss classes.
“If we can get one child that’s chronically absent back into school, that child has such great possibility. And if we don’t, that child may end up as one of the hopeless,” she said. “We can’t let that happen, not even with one child.”
In this year’s report, ACNJ is recommending that New Jersey adopt a uniform definition of “chronic absenteeism” and that schools develop meaningful student-staff relationships, adopt early detection and intervention practices, and engage parents to better understand the obstacles that keep children away from their classrooms.