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Trauma-Informed Practices Will Help Tackle Chronic Absenteeism in Oregon

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A new Oregon law requires the state's education department to develop a plan to reduce rates of chronic absenteeism and provides limited resources for schools to pilot trauma-informed practices aimed at keeping students in class.

The law, signed by Gov. Kate Brown in late March, acknowledges what child advocacy groups have said for years: School absences are a multipronged issue that require comprehensive solutions involving mental and physical health, emotional issues, and other outside-of-school factors.

Some advocates have even suggested incorporating rates of chronic absenteeism into school accountability systems to give seemingly disparate efforts a common goal. Because such a wide range of programs can address school attendance, such a goal would lead to improvements throughout the school environment, they say.

Oregon has one of the lowest overall graduation rates in the country, a problem the state has tried to address throughout the K-12 pipeline with a variety of student supports. Education Week's 2015 Diplomas Count report set Oregon's adjusted cohort graduation rate at 69 percent, compared to 81 percent nationwide.

The new law requires Oregon's education department to create a plan to tackle absenteeism in consultation with the department of human services, the Oregon Health Authority, and community and education stakeholders. That plan must include:

  • A process for publicly disclosing annual information on chronic absence rates for each school.
  • Guidance and best practices for all schools and school districts to use to track, monitor, and address chronic absences and improve attendance.
  • A process for identifying schools in need of support to reduce chronic absences and improve attendance.
  • A description of technical assistance available to schools identified as being in need of support, including technical assistance that will be provided by the department or the office.
  • The estimated costs associated with implementing the plan.

The law also requires the state to provide grants to schools "to design and implement a pilot program to decrease rates of school absenteeism by using trauma-informed approaches to education, health services, and intervention strategies that are based in schools and take advantage of community resources."

Attendance Works has long argued for a common definition of chronic absenteeism that includes both excused and unexcused absences to better track school attendance.

It's possible that more states will encourage schools to address absenteeism as the nation transitions to a new federal education law. That's because that law, the Every Student Succeeds Act, requires states to incorporate at least one "other indicator" beyond test scores in the accountability systems they use to measure school success. While a variety of indicators are on the table, some have already pushed states to use absenteeism.

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