Madison Schools aiming to help students who are chronically absent

Madison School District is focusing on reducing the number of students who are chronically absent throughout the course of an academic year.

Finding ways to successfully address this problem will help the district in achieving a related objective: to improve overall student attendance.

As the 2022-23 academic year gets underway, the district has set a new attendance goal of having students present 93 percent of the time, said Assistant Superintendent David Bull.

“Now when we look at some of our past data, we’re not that far from 93,” Bull said, during a recent Madison School Board meeting. “And given that we had some longer absences over the past couple years because of quarantines and things like that, I think we’re kind of set up for success in hitting that 93 percent.”

However, he acknowledged that one of the challenges in attaining the district-wide attendance goal is to decrease the number of students who are chronically absent.

“What that means is they’ve missed 18 or more days during a school year,” Bull said. “Eighteen days in a school year is 10 percent of your school year.”

Students who miss large numbers of school days during a year because of major illnesses or health problems aren’t included in the trend of chronic absenteeism, Bull said.

“Obviously, if a student has surgery and they’re out for a month, there’s nothing anyone can do about that,” he said. “We’re talking about the here and there, missing a day this week and another day two weeks from now.

“If you miss two days in a month, by the end of the school year it’s 18 days. So it doesn’t seem like a lot, but it does add up over the course of a school year.”

The district is taking a three-tiered approach to help lower chronic absenteeism, Bull explained.

“With Tier 1 we have made all of our letters (regarding chronic absences) more consistent, and we tried to do it in a way that’s offering help, as opposed to any kind of threat,” he said. “That’s not really what we want. We want to work together to help kids to be successful.”

For Tier 2, teacher teams throughout Madison Schools are going to be taking a look at when students hit certain levels of absenteeism and reaching out to parents and guardians.

“The teachers might say, ‘Hey, I noticed your child has missed a few days this week. Is there anything we do to help get them caught up on their work? Are there any issues we should be aware of, to help support you?’ ” Bull said. “And the idea is to try not to have so many kids hitting those large numbers of absences.”

Tier Three is when a student has “blown past” 18 days of absences and Lake County Juvenile Court would have to be contacted because it’s compulsory for students to be in school, Bull said.

“We hope to do some steps before we get to that Tier 3,” he added.

Madison Schools Superintendent Angela Smith said that a key part of helping students to learn is making sure they attend school regularly.

“It’s hard if you’re missing a lot of class, then you get behind, you can’t catch up and it becomes a cycle,” she said. “If you’re here, that’s half of the battle. And so that’s the goal, we want kids in school so that they’re actively learning, so that will improve all aspects of achievement across the district.”

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