Across Kent County, schools and community partners are delivering a consistent message to students and their parents about school attendance: Strive for Less Than 5!
The countywide attendance campaign is for students to miss less than five days of school this year to ensure that fewer students fall behind academically because of chronic absenteeism.
Teachers and administrators will be emphasizing the importance of being in school. Six of the 20 school districts in the Kent ISD will begin delivering that message today, Aug. 20, when students return to class.
Chronic absenteeism is defined by all Kent County districts as missing 10 percent or more of school days. Ten percent translates into 18 days - 2 days per month - in a 180-day school year.
Superintendents say being out of the classroom for that many days is enough to jeopardize a students' future, impacting academic proficiency, state test scores, and their chances of earning a high school diploma.
"Our school districts have high average daily attendance rates, in the 90s, but focusing on that rate you can miss all the students that are risk of failure due to chronic absenteeism,'' said Kent ISD Assistant Superintendent Ron Koehler.
"The academic expectations are totally different now, and if you lose the foundation that you build early on, you just don't get there and dropping out is slow disengagement. When you are missing class and not mastering concepts, disengagement starts early.''
In Kent County, 12.1 percent, or 13,301 students, from kindergarten to 12th grade were chronically absent in 2016-17, down from 13.9 percent the year prior, according to state data.
Kent districts were given tool kits to help them implement, promote and communicate the Strive campaign to students and families, including on social media and websites. There's also a public service announcement featuring kids.
Godfrey-Lee Superintendent Kevin Polston said parents care deeply about their kids but often have no idea of the negative effects being absent a day or two month can have on their child's education.
He said the around 2,100-student district has a 93 percent attendance rate but that doesn't reflect the 433 students chronically absent.
"Letting our parents know that just two days a month constitutes a 10 percent absence rate and explaining how that could put their child at risk of not graduating raises awareness,'' he said, about the attendance campaign.
"Often times attendance is a symptom of some other problem. Every superintendent in the Kent ISD is committed to providing support and services to our families so students can get to school every day.''
When students are in class, school leaders say it's their job to make sure the curriculum is challeging and interesting.
In 2013, Grand Rapids Public Schools was the first to ask families to Strive for Less Than 5. The district's Challenge 5 success at reducing absenteeism prompted the ISD-wide adoption by the 19 other superintendents.
Superintendent Teresa Weatherall Neal said having all 20 districts embrace the challenge sends one strong, consistent message to parents. She said GRPS proved the campaign works when implemented effectively.
The 2012-13 school year, GRPS had a 36.4 percent rate of chronic absenteeism but it steadily dropped and in 2017-18 was down to 13.7 percent.
Since 2013, GRPS has seen a 51 percent reduction with black students, and 66 percent absenteeism decline with Hispanics, two vulnerable subgroups.
Neal said the district is still working with their parents and letters are going out to families who had children miss more than five days of school last year reminding them that students need to be in class on time, ready to learn.
Last school year, the 17th Circuit Court launched the Kent County Truancy Court pilot program this school year to help reduce absenteeism. The pilot was focused initially on Wyoming and Godwin Heights school district.
Godwin Heights Superintendent Bill Fetterhoff said while the majority of school struggle with students who are chronically absent, the problem is especially concentrated in high-poverty school districts.
"There are more stress factors on our urban families,'' he said.
"Families and schools have to work together as a team to make sure students are in school from bell to bell. Students not coming to school, showing up late, or leaving early impacts achievement because there is so much content now.''
Godwin has a 93 percent attendance rate but 1,609 chronically absent students in 2016-17.
Fetterhoff said districts must have consistent policies in place and provide the kind of services that will keep students in school, as families grapple with challenges. He also said schools must talk with parents after the first absence.
He said districts also must work closely with their community partners such as the Kent School Services Network, to offer those wrap around services families need to remove barriers to learning.
Starting the 2019-20 school year, Michigan students who are at least a year behind grade level in reading skills will have to repeat third grade.
The campaign highlights several points include these five:
Missing more than 5 days of kindergarten makes learning to read harder.
Missing more than five days any year hurts learning and lowers test scores.
Students who miss more than 10 percent of school are more likely to drop out.
Being late to school or leaving early leads to poor attendance.
Absences affect everyone when teachers have to help students catch up.
This school year, state law requires that 40 percent of half of teacher and administrator evaluations be based on "student growth and assessment data", with half of the growth component of evaluations comprised of state assessment data for tested grades and subjects.
Kentwood Superintendent Michael Zoerhoff said chronic absenteeism is affecting urban, suburban and rural schools at different levels. He said building school culture and working and communicating with parents has always been a priority.
"This campaign can help get everyone in the region focused on the problem and elevate the discussion,'' he said, about his 9,100-student district.
In 2016-17, Kentwood had a 94.8 percent attendance rate and 1,384 chronically absent students.
Kentwood, Grand Rapids, Godwin-Heights, Godfrey-Lee, Grandville, and East Grand Rapids schools started the new school year Monday.
The Kent ISD is the only ISD and county in the state to define for chronic absenteeism and truancy, so it was consistent across all school systems, according to Koehler.
Mark Larson, Kent ISD truancy officer, said the top three reasons statistically that students miss time in school in Michigan are:
Some other contributing factors to chronic absenteeism schools have also cited include: family issues such as homelessness, anxiety due to mental health issues, lack of interest in school, bullying, chronic illness, and babysitting younger sibling.
This year, parents are able to look at attendance an array of other school data in an online parent dashboard the Michigan Department of Education launched.
To understand the impact of absenteeism on academic outcomes, Kent ISD studied the relationship between attendance and passing the state standardized test (M-STEP) among students in its districts.
The analysis confirms the national research that chronically absent students are much less likely to reach grade-level reading and math expectations than their peers.
For example, chronically absent third graders, missing 10 percent of school, have only a 40 percent probability of reaching English Language Arts or reading proficiency. The more school missed the lower the probability for demonstrating competency.
The analysis of subgroups also found low-income students are over twice as likely not to reach reading proficiency targets than their higher income peers, and black and Hispanic students are much less likely to meet proficiency than their white peers in reading.
The attendance campaign will be ongoing; keeping the conversation going with an open dialogue about attendance.
Districts are encouraging families to "Make every day count:"
Be on time, every time.
Build backup plans or a buddy system for getting students to and from school.
Plan vacations when school is out.
Set appointments (medical, dental, etc) before or after school.