Prince William schools seeing a decrease in chronic absenteeism

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Prince William County Public Schools has experienced an 8% drop in chronic absenteeism from this time last year, school division officials told the School Board in a presentation March 6.

Chronic absenteeism sits at 17% for the school division up to this point in the year, down from 25% at the same time last year.​​

“Certainly not yet where we strive to be in reducing chronic absenteeism, but a great distance from where we were,” Superintendent LaTanya McDade said.

This improvement is happening concurrent with a slight increase in the average daily attendance.

Chronic absenteeism is defined as a student missing 10% or more of the academic year, which in Prince William County is about 18 days.

When the chronic absenteeism data is broken down by student group, ethnicity and grade level, improvements ranged from 5-8%.

Officials shared with the School Board the various strategies they are using to tackle chronic absenteeism and to improve test scores, including student focus groups through which students have been given the opportunity to give the school division a better understanding of why they’re missing school.

Denise Huebner, the associate superintendent for student services and post-secondary success, said the school division has found common themes as to why students miss school.

Huebner said students are often absent so they can avoid academic challenges. Additionally, they’re missing school due to responsibilities to help provide for their families and due to mental health issues such as stress, anxiety and struggling to make social connections.

The school division continues to send out attendance letters for missed school time, which Huebner said has proven to be successful, with 66% of students who receive a first attendance letter not receiving a second one.

Additional support

The school division is also emphasizing access to rigorous coursework for all students.

“We know from data and research that when struggling students receive content that is rigorous and aligned to the standards — coupled with high teacher expectations — that they improve at a rate even more rapidly than their on track peers,” said Stephanie Soliven, associate superintendent for teaching and learning.

One way the school division is assisting students that need additional support is through supplemental instruction to help recover credits. Beginning this school year, all high schools have a credit recovery platform to help students complete courses and receive additional support.

“The structured approach ensures that all students are required to complete the rigorous requirements of the standards while getting that differentiated approach,” Soliven said.

Elementary and middle schools in the division have prioritized providing tutoring opportunities for students identified as those that would benefit from additional instruction.

The school division, Soliven said, also launched digital platforms for parents to be able to monitor and support that tutoring from home.

All kindergarten through eighth-grade students have access to Lexia, a literacy tool, and Zearn, a platform that supports math instruction. The programs can be used at home or at school.

The school division also recently finalized a partnership with Varsity Tutors, which will be available to all kindergarten through 12th-grade students for individual tutoring assistance.

At identified schools, students in need of extra support are assigned a success coach, Huebner said. Three high schools with the highest chronic absenteeism rates have been identified as schools where students can currently access these coaches. Success coaches are teaches who choose to take on that role in addition to their regular courseload.

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