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Absences add up


Rochester schools Superintendent Bolgen Vargas has successfully brought public attention to the connection between attendance and student achievement. While the district's low graduation rate has been reported for years, one of its underlying causes — chronic truancy — received less attention.

School officials confirm that three months into this school year there are 186 students who are "no shows" — meaning they haven't attended a single day of school — and 168 who have missed 90 percent to 99 percent of school.

Average daily attendance has increased from a low of 87.7 percent in 2011-2012 to a projected 90.5 percent in 2014-2015. But further analysis shows that while the trajectory is good, thousands of city students are still missing far too much instruction time.

And recent research by Johns Hopkins University's Robert Balfanz shows that chronic absenteeism's impact on student achievement is highly predictable, and worse than many parents realize.

Balfanz has developed a formula that accurately demonstrates how every day of school missed results in learning loss, inching the student closer to not graduating.

His research shows how little it takes for a student to fall behind. Missing just one day every so often adds up to weeks and months of missed learning time, and the problem usually appears in lower reading and math scores.

For instance, when a high school student misses 20 days of school in one school year, that student's math and reading scores, according to Balfanz, will fall into the lowest 39th percentile. And the student's likelihood of graduating is 65 percent.

If the same student misses 30 days of school, Balfanz says, graduating in four years is less than 50 percent. Teachers can help students catch up through remedial work and summer school, he says, but that results in higher costs because instruction is delivered multiple times.

During the last school board meeting, Vargas presented data showing that 7,200 students districtwide have missed 20 days or more of school so far this year.

The number of students chronically absent is especially high in grades K-3, where developing reading proficiency is imperative, Vargas said. And he listed the following elementary schools as having the highest absenteeism: 4, 8, 17, 22, 36, 43, 54, and 57.