Absenteeism and Truancy in California Schools

Absenteeism and Truancy in California Schools

I haven’t had a chance to review the report that is mentioned at the top of this newsletter, but I suspect that it will be relevant to readers of this space.

A new PACE commentary calls for urgent action to address the spike in school absenteeism following the COVID-19 pandemic. Authors Kevin GeeHeather Hough, and Belen Chavez show that students of color experienced some of the largest increases, presenting troubling equity implications for our state’s most vulnerable youth populations.

The commentary reflects findings from a new PACE report that used data from the California Department of Education to identify disparities in labeling school absences unexcused. Report authors Clea McNeelyHedy Chang, and Kevin Gee analyzed data from the 2017–18, 2018–19, and 2021–22 school years and found that the statewide percentage of absences labeled unexcused held constant at around 38 percent yet varied significantly by school. Socioeconomically disadvantaged students and students of color were more likely to have their absences labeled unexcused, with Black students experiencing the largest disparity. This is particularly problematic since accumulating too many unexcused absences places students at risk of becoming classified as “truant.” This can lead to involvement with the court system as well as still greater risk of not being able to engage academically and nonacademically—missing opportunities to complete make-up work and exclusion from extracurricular activities are penalties for unexcused absences.

The report makes several recommendations, including using attendance data to identify disparities and bright spots; strengthening monitoring of reasons for absences; updating policies related to unexcused absences; improving communication of attendance policies to students and families; and investing in professional development to improve attendance practices.

In Case You Missed It

Released on March 14, 2023, a new analysis by researchers at UCLA and UC Riverside shows that even in Blue state California, political attacks on public schools are pervasive and growing, hindering learning and the role schools play in a diverse democracy. The research brief “Educating for a Diverse Democracy in California” draws upon a representative survey of 150 California high school principals conducted in 2022 examining the chilling effect of political conflict in the nation’s schools. Key findings include:

  • Political conflict is pervasive and growing, particularly in communities where the 2020 presidential vote for Donald Trump was between 45% and 54.9%.
  • Political division and community-level conflict is shaping student interactions, with more than two thirds of California principals reporting that students made demeaning or hateful remarks to liberal or conservative classmates.
  • Many California students—especially Black, Latinx, and LGBTQ+ students—experience hostility and intolerance in school, with nearly half of principals reporting that incidents of intolerance have increased in number since the pandemic.

On March 6, 2023, PACE held a webinar to present new research on 12th-grade math and course-taking in California indicating that nearly half of high school graduates do not meet the math requirements of state universities or are ill-prepared for college math. The webinar also presented research on how partnerships between university faculty and high school math specialists can lead to the development of new, innovative math courses that increase equitable access to advanced math and improve student outcomes.

Panelists included:

Michal Kurlaender, Professor of Education Policy, University of California, Davis
Sherrie Reed, Executive Director, California Education Lab, University of California, Davis
Osvaldo Soto, Director, Discrete Math Project Collaborative, University of California, San Diego

Slides from and a video recording of the webinar are now available.

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