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Combating chronic absenteeism needs community action

September is national Attendance Awareness Month and there is no other state that needs more awareness on chronic absenteeism than New Mexico.

According to a recently released analysis of NAEP (National Assessment of Educational Progress) data, about 20 percent of students reported high rates of absenteeism nationwide.

In New Mexico, the rates were even higher, with 25 percent of fourth-graders and 27 percent of eighth-graders reporting that they missed three or more days in the month prior to the assessment.

The absences correlated with lower test scores in both grades.

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Fourth-graders with poor attendance scored 11 points lower in reading and 11 points lower in math than their peers who reported no absences.

Eighth-graders with poor attendance scored 12 points lower in reading and 14 points lower in math.

Poor attendance was reported in the highest rates by Native American students, followed by Hispanic and African American students, who have absenteeism rates slightly higher than white students.

We often hear about New Mexico’s truancy problem, but many may not understand the difference between truancy and absenteeism. Truancy measures a student’s number of unexcused absences, and absenteeism includes both unexcused and excused absences.

Chronic absence is defined as missing 10 percent of the academic year (18 days). Tracking only truancy may not accurately capture the absenteeism rates of our students and, without having a full picture of student attendance, we don’t have the information we need to ensure effective and timely intervention.

The community must move toward a larger conversation about the impact of missing any school, whether excused or unexcused. Students begin laying an academic foundation as early as preschool and kindergarten, and poor student attendance in kindergarten can leave third-graders unable to read at grade level.

We all know that third-grade reading proficiency is critical to setting students on a path to degree completion and New Mexico cannot afford to continue losing our students before they graduate from high school.

Not only do high dropout rates contribute to higher rates of poverty and joblessness, but also they present a workforce challenge. Students who are dropping out of school are left without the academic credentials and skills they need to be successful in the 21st century workforce.

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Without establishing good attendance habits during their earlier years, our students will have difficulty with basic soft skills, like showing up to work on time every day. Reducing chronic absenteeism is a business community imperative and the Greater Albuquerque Chamber of Commerce is calling for action. As the business community, we must educate our own employees about the importance of good school attendance.

We ask that our school districts track chronic absence numbers and total absence numbers for each student, not just truancy. We encourage districts to evaluate absenteeism in each school, grade and neighborhood, and intervene where students are heading off track.

We urge the state to take a deeper dive into its data to understand the full extent of this problem in New Mexico.

And, perhaps most importantly, we encourage all education and community leaders to convey the importance of school attendance to parents and caregivers.

Combating chronic absenteeism requires a community-wide approach to improving student attendance. In New Mexico, United Way of Central New Mexico’s education partnership initiative, Mission: Graduate, has developed toolkits for different stakeholder groups on how they can help improve attendance.

Education Secretary-designate Hanna Skandera has supported a call to action among New Mexico’s superintendents.

Albuquerque Public Schools is working to employ a proactive approach to absenteeism, providing resources and assistance to its schools on preventing school absences.

The Greater Albuquerque Chamber of Commerce is strongly committed to this effort and has supported legislation at the state level to combat chronic absenteeism as part of its student-centered policy agenda.

This is a good start and we hope that improved awareness of this issue will continue to initiate community action.

Del Archuleta is president and owner of Molzen-Corbin & Associates and chairman of the Greater Albuquerque Chamber of Commerce. Terri Cole is president and CEO of the Greater Albuquerque Chamber of Commerce.


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