New Data Show Decrease in Chronic Absenteeism

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San Francisco (December 15, 2023) - The San Francisco Unified School District (SFUSD) experienced a decline in its chronic absenteeism rate for 2022-23 school year as compared to the year prior, from 29% in 2021-22 to 26% in 2022-23, according to newly released data by the California Department of Education. Almost all student groups showed similar improvements, significantly declining in their chronic absenteeism rates from the prior year. SFUSD has been actively engaging community, families, students in a concerted effort to reduce chronic absenteeism and continues to prioritize services to support students in coming to school, and ensuring they feel safe and a sense of belonging in school.

“Attendance is directly tied to student outcomes. If a child doesn’t come to school, they’re not learning,” SFUSD Superintendent Dr. Matt Wayne said. “We are pleased to have made progress last year in reducing chronic absenteeism, and we know that more work is needed to continue supporting students in coming to school every day.”

These data were included as part of the 2023 California School Dashboard (Dashboard) which was publicly released by the California Department of Education (CDE) on Dec. 15, 2023. It marks the full return of California’s accountability system, presented as an online tool designed to help communities across the state access important information about kindergarten through grade twelve schools and districts. Visit the CA Dashboard to view SFUSD and school-level results.

The Dashboard features seven state indicators that provide important information on how schools are serving their students. Performance Levels (or colors) for state indicators are determined using current year performance (or Status) and the difference from prior year (or Change) to show growth or decline. This results in five color-coded Performance Levels for each indicator. From highest to lowest, the Performance Levels are: Blue, Green, Yellow, Orange, and Red. The College/Career Indicator performance level will not be reported this year.  In addition to the state indicators, each district provides information and does a self assessment on five local indicators. SFUSD is monitoring all of the indicators and will leverage the data to improve student learning outcomes.

As part of the SF Board of Education’s adopted Vision, Values, Goals and Guardrails, Superintendent Wayne has identified chronic absenteeism as an Interim Guardrail. At the Oct. 24, 2023 Board of Education Special Workshop Meeting, SFUSD staff presented a progress monitoring report on interim guardrail 2.1: Reduce Chronic Absenteeism from 29% in 2021-22 to 24% in 2023-24. The progress monitoring report highlighted strategies to address chronic absenteeism. 

This fall SFUSD joined a nationwide effort to celebrate the Attendance Awareness Campaign. SFUSD recognizes that good attendance is essential to academic success, but far too many students are at risk academically because they are chronically absent. Chronic absenteeism is described as missing 10% of the school year—or about 18 days— for any reason.

When students are chronically absent, the district and schools utilize a care coordination strategy that involves intentionally organizing student and family services at a school site to support a student to overcome barriers to attendance. 

SFUSD’s approach to absenteeism in support of the Guardrail is to ensure that each school has a plan to improve attendance and sense of belonging. The district is following research from Attendance Works on Tiered Interventions to ensure that strategies for attendance are proactive and supportive to prevent chronic absenteeism before students get too far behind. Tier 1 strategies include notifications to families which provide updates on their child’s attendance records. Schools are planning school wide incentives; for example, when an entire school reaches a threshold of good attendance for the day, having a school wide dance break the same day. Tier 2 interventions include individualized incentives and interventions, for example, providing additional incentives and resources to smaller groups of students who are struggling with attendance, and digging deeper into what are the barriers to attendance in order to mitigate them. 

For students with extreme chronic absenteeism, SFUSD has a number of existing wraparound services to support students in coming to school and receiving the care they need to succeed. Schools and central office staff work collectively to foster a sense of belonging for all students so that when students become chronically absent there are existing, meaningful relationships that support the coordinated care effort. Schools are closely monitoring attendance data and implementing staff teams to intervene early when students are at risk of chronic absenteeism.

SFUSD absenteeism data has mirrored national trends. Throughout the nation, prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, 8 million students were chronically absent. Early data from states indicates that the figure has likely doubled, potentially affecting nearly 16 million students nationwide by the end of the 2021–22 school year. Research shows that starting as early as kindergarten or even preschool, chronic absenteeism predicts lower third grade reading scores and by middle school, serves as a warning sign that students will fail key classes and drop out of high school.

Chronic absenteeism disproportionately affects children from low-income families and communities of color, creating attendance gaps that exacerbate achievement gaps in local schools. Many children, especially in the early grades, miss too much school because of chronic health problems, unreliable transportation or housing moves — barriers that city agencies and community partners can help families address. SFUSD has a Family Link line that directly supports families in overcoming these barriers.