School districts across Monterey County have implemented positive strategies to reduce chronic absenteeism for all students. (Courtesy of MCOE)

MONTEREY COUNTY — California Department of Education (CDE) on Oct. 18 publicly released Chronic Absenteeism data, which is a leading indicator of academic success, including standardized test scores and later graduation rates.

Students are considered to be chronically absent if they are absent for 10% or more of the full days they were expected to attend school.

In 2022-23, Monterey County saw an annual chronic absenteeism rate reduction of 6.5%, from 28.7% to 22.2%. The reduction was more significant for Monterey County schools than it was for California as a whole, which also saw reductions.

Overall, Monterey County has lower rates of chronic absenteeism than the State and has the 15th lowest rate amongst the 58 counties in California. Compared to the state, the different rates are particularly noticeable in the late middle and high school years where Monterey County has lower rates, which are the critical years for student growth and learning.

School districts across Monterey County have implemented positive strategies to reduce chronic absenteeism for all students, with an additional focus on students who are experiencing homelessness. For this student group, Monterey County is at 26%, which is below the state’s rates of chronic absenteeism at 40.6%. 

Students experiencing homelessness often face significant barriers that create obstacles to consistent and regular attendance. Hispanic or Latino students also have lower rates of chronic absenteeism in Monterey County than in surrounding counties and the state as a whole. Overall, diverse student groups across Monterey County have all improved attendance indicators, with foster youth, kindergarteners and non-binary students currently needing the most support.

Ongoing efforts continue to support positive student engagement and attendance in Monterey County following the significant challenges brought on by the Covid-19 pandemic, remote learning and the emergence of new variants, which all factored into a substantial increase in chronic absenteeism rates.

On the day of the release, the CDE and Attendance Works hosted a webinar titled “Counting Every Day: Making the Most of California’s Absenteeism Data.” Over 300 school personnel participated in the webinar where they learned about how educators, community partners and policy makers can access reports to answer key questions and drive efforts to re-engage students in learning. 

In addition, the webinar spotlighted the Monterey County Office of Education (MCOE) and local work in partnership with the statewide system of support to improve attendance.

“By fostering a culture of engagement and embracing innovative strategies, our schools are making strides in combating chronic absenteeism and ensuring that every student has the opportunity to thrive,” said Monterey County Superintendent of Schools Deneen Guss. “As we navigate the aftermath of the pandemic, we are committed to rebuilding a sense of normalcy and ensuring that no student is left behind.”

California Department of Education hosts a webinar about California’s absenteeism data. (Courtesy of MCOE)

The Research-Practice Partnership that MCOE has formed with the California Collaborative for Educational Excellence (CCEE) includes four local school districts (Alisal Union, North Monterey County Unified, Salinas City Elementary and Soledad Unified), which are all engaged in working together alongside Attendance Works, a national and state initiative that pushes for better policy and practice to improve school attendance. 

The collaboration engages in continuous improvement practices to address the persistently high levels of chronic absenteeism, including participating in deep conversations, data analysis, and strategic discussions centered around the specific local context with the goal of understanding the underlying factors contributing to absenteeism and developing strategies to combat it effectively. 

MCOE helps to facilitate focus groups and empathy interviews to learn from education partners in each learning community and apply strategies to address challenges surfaced through the feedback process.

For districts in Monterey County, the four districts that participated in the Research-Practice Partnership showed larger improvements than the county as a whole and larger improvements than districts in California on average. 

“Significant progress has been achieved, and we now have an exciting opportunity to continue improving our systems and further boost school attendance,” according to MCOE.

Alisal Union School District Superintendent Jim Koenig stated, “In order to learn, and have all the opportunities they can possibly have, students need to be in the classroom. Over the past year, Alisal administrators worked hard on incentive programs, home visits and other initiatives to educate students and parents and get students to school. The effort paid off.”

Prioritizing the concerns surrounding chronic absenteeism and the focal points for improvement, Monterey County Office of Education Assistant Superintendent of Educational Services Caryn Lewis is incorporating the assistance of WestEd, an educational research, development and service agency that works to improve education and other important outcomes for children and youth.

Leaders of WestEd are demonstrating how the use of data collected can help to design and carry out strategies to reduce chronic absenteeism, such as building community awareness and providing one-on-one support for students and families.

“We are encouraged by the recent, significant decline in student absenteeism across our District,” said Rebeca Andrade, superintendent of the Salinas City Elementary School District. “This progress speaks to the collective efforts of our District and school staff who recognize it takes all of us to engage our families and students.” 

“Collaborating with MCOE, neighboring Districts and researchers from Attendance Works and CCEE,” she added, “is helping us develop solutions to address the root causes of absenteeism, such as health concerns, transportation barriers and academic challenges; so that ultimately each student can feel safe, supported, valued in our schools and walk confidently knowing they belong.”

Monterey County Office of Education continues its work with industry and school district partners to understand how to strengthen its systems to better serve students. To learn more about core focus areas for chronic absenteeism reduction, contact Caryn Lewis at [email protected].

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A staff member wrote, edited or posted this article, which may include information provided by one or more third parties.

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