Chronic absenteeism declines in Sonoma Valley school district
Chronic absenteeism among students in Sonoma Valley Unified School District fell by 14% in 2022-23 from the previous academic year, but it is still nearly 13% higher than the pre-pandemic level, according to newly released data.
The district’s rate fell to 25.50% in 2022-23 from 39.50% in 2021-22, on DataQuest, the California Department of Education’s web-based data system. In 2018-19, 12.8% of the district’s students were chronically absent.
“While we’re not all the way back to the low levels of absenteeism of 2018-19, it’s clear that the hard work and ‘re-norming’ of behavior among students is paying off, especially considering the collective challenge we’ve overcome in handling the pandemic,” said John Kelly, a member of the district’s board of trustees.
“There’s more work to do, but I congratulate our teachers, staff and administrators for what they’ve accomplished so far.”
Jillian Beall, the school district’s director of educational services, student wellness and inclusion, cited the recent data during her presentation about chronic absenteeism at the board’s meeting on Nov. 15.
“We are pleased to see our chronic absenteeism decline in the 2022-23 school year from the previous school year,” she said. “We have amazing school and district attendance teams that are dedicated to partnering with our students and families to look at individual situations so we can best problem-solve and support each individual with increasing attendance.”
Chronic absenteeism is defined as a situation in which a student misses 10% or more of the academic year for any reason, including absences, unexcused absences and suspensions. In a 180-day school year, a student who misses 18 more days due to excused or unexcused absences is considered chronically absent.
Sonoma Valley Unified School District’s 2022-23 chronic absentee rate of 25.50% is higher than the state average of 24.50%, but lower than the Sonoma County average of 27.60%.
The 2022-23 absentee rate in Sonoma Valley’s schools ranged from a low of 15.90% at Adele Harrison Middle School to a high of 77.80% at Creekside High School, the only district school to have a higher rate than in 2021-22 (see graph).
“It is clear we need to invest more resources in Creekside, which as a former continuation school kid, I would argue is something our district has always needed to do,” said Trustee Celeste Winders. “This is a population of students who have higher needs and require more levels of support, but who are also in a smaller environment with incredibly caring staff who know them and their needs very well.”
Chronic absenteeism rates for district students with disabilities fell 12.8% to 35.2%, English learners dropped 15.4% to 29.5% and socioeconomically disadvantaged (SED) students slipped 15.5% to 28.1%, but all rates are higher than the district’s overall 25.50%.
“For students with disabilities, this should be addressed individually through the IEP (individual education plan) team with services and goals to monitor progress,” Winders said.
She added that for all three groups, the district has Coordination of Services Teams, wellness centers, social workers, community liaisons, educational staff and classified staff working together for students.
“We must continue to invest and expand in these efforts,” Winders said. “This is one of the reasons I think it is critical that we expand and build our Family Resource Centers and address the systemic needs for students who have intersectional needs.”
Sonoma Valley Unified School District is making a major push to further reduce chronic absenteeism because it can significantly impact a student’s future.
According to the nonprofit initiative Attendance Works, poor attendance can influence whether children read proficiently by the third grade. By the sixth grade, chronic absence becomes a leading indicator that a student will drop out of high school.
“We know that success in school directly correlates with positive attendance,” Beall said. “Our district’s mission and vision are to educate and inspire all students in every classroom, at every school and with every opportunity so that each and every student will be prepared for a world yet to be imagined.
“To ensure we are able to support each and every student with being prepared for a world yet to be imagined, we need to prioritize students being able to access their learning each day.”