The Pasadena Unified School District (PUSD) recently announced the launch of “Attend Today, Achieve Tomorrow,” a campaign to improve school attendance and get students to attend class at least 97 percent of the time, which equates to missing fewer than five days of school this year.
“If kids aren’t in school, they can’t learn. Missing school creates gaps in learning because of the loss of continuity in learning,” said Superintendent Brian McDonald. “As a community dedicated to excellence and equity, we’re motivating students to be in school 97 percent of the school year so that they can be prepared for success in college and in life.”
Because chronically absent students are 50 percent more likely to read below grade level, the district is stepping up efforts to get students back in class. Students in the early grades tend to miss the most school, with the problem peaking again in high school. In 2016-2017, 11.8 percent of PUSD students missed more than 10 percent of instructional days.
“Frequent absences make it difficult for students to be successful,” said Eric Sahakian, Assistant Superintendent of School Support Services. “Absences can also be a sign of difficulties or traumas in their home life; by identifying problems early, we can offer extra support so they can be successful at school and in life.”
Absences from school or classes trigger phone calls and letters, and even home visits. The district has dedicated attendance staff who works with schools to improve the collection and reporting of student attendance data and to identify students who may be academically at risk because of repeated absences.
Schools are reinforcing positive messages about school attendance and are offering incentives such as recognition awards and pizza parties during the school day or gift cards to local restaurants and stores.
According to state law, absences may be considered excused if they are due to personal illness, a medical or dental appointment, or the funeral of an immediate family member. Unexcused absences, such as vacations and family trips, are considered truancies.
Regardless of whether the absence is excused or unexcused, missed days affect student learning as well as the district’s average daily attendance, which is used by the state to determine levels of funding. Increasing attendance by just 1 percent will increase funding to PUSD schools by $1 million.
School attendance is expected to be added as a metric later this year on the California School Dashboard, which evaluates school performance.
For information on PUSD’s “Attend Today, Achieve Tomorrow” campaign, visit www.gopusd.com/attendtoday.