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The hidden problem of chronic absence

Staff Photojournalistphoto by D. Ross Cameron/Oakland Tribune

We’ve just posted a story I wrote about chronic absenteeism — when a student misses 10 percent or more school days for any reason, excused or unexcused.

A small, but growing number of school districts in California have begun to crunch the numbers to see which of their students are habitually out of school, and how many. Traditionally, schools have looked only at how many of their students attend school each day, on average, or how many were truant or tardy.

When you count excused absences, the number of kindergartners who miss 18 or more days of school might surprise you (unless you’re a kindergarten teacher).

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OUSD’s black male students: school-by-school data

This morning, Urban Strategies Council released a series of reports about the experience of black boys in the Oakland school district: one on out-of-school suspensions, one on chronic absenteeism, and lastly, an analysis of numerous factors to estimate how many children are on track to graduate high school — beginning in elementary.

There is so much data here that the short story in today’s Tribune (which is long by today’s standards) and blog post can’t do it justice. Each school will receive a data profile to further the district’s African American Male Achievement initiative. These reports were produced in partnership with OUSD as part of the initiative.

Some of the stats that I pulled for the paper on African-American boys in OUSD. The suspension rates are the percentage of individual students that received an out-of-school suspension at least once during a single school year.

  • Twenty percent missed 18 or more days of school in 2010-11, making them chronically absent.
  • Eleven elementary schools gave no out-of-school suspensions to black boys in 2010-11, and 20 schools suspended 3┬ápercent or less; by contrast, some elementary schools suspended 22 to 35 percent of their black male students that year.
  • Middle schools had the highest suspension rates for black boys. Out-of-school suspensions jumped from 12 percent in fifth grade to 31 percent in sixth grade. At West Oakland Middle School, 60 percent of the students received at least one suspension in 2010-11.
  • About 38 percent of the suspensions were for defying authority or causing a disruption; 28 percent were for causing, attempting or threatening injury.

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