Analysis finds California students attend school more than U.S. peers

A study finds California fourth- and eighth-graders had better attendance than peers in about 40 other states

California students attend school more consistently than most of their U.S. peers, and such attendance directly relates to better performance on national math and reading tests, a new analysis has found.

The analysis by Attendance Works, a San Francisco nonprofit aimed at combating school absenteeism, found that California fourth- and eighth-graders had better attendance than peers in about 40 other states in 2013.

But nearly 1 in 5 of those students still missed more than three days of class in the month leading up to the National Assessment for Educational Progress, a standardized math and reading test typically given to fourth- and eighth-graders between late January and early March annually.

Nationally, as many as 7.5 million students missed nearly a month of school.

"This lost instructional time exacerbates dropout rates and achievement gaps," said the report, which was written by Alan Ginsburg, Phyllis Jordan and Hedy Chang.

The state-by-state analysis found that students who missed more than three days of class scored lower on the national test — known as "the nation's report card" — across ages, subjects, race, income level, city and state.

California fourth-graders with poor attendance scored 11 points lower in reading and 15 points lower in math, while eighth-graders scored 15 points lower in reading and 16 points lower in math. The same trend held true for Los Angeles.

In recent years, however, state Atty. Gen. Kamala D. Harris and Los Angeles Unified Supt. John Deasy have focused on combating the problem of poor attendance.

Harris has commissioned statewide studies on elementary student truancy and sponsored a package of four measures aimed at addressing the problem. The bills, which would require the state to collect student attendance data and help school districts better track and prevent truancy, passed the Legislature last week.

In L.A. Unified, the percentage of students with attendance rates of 96% or higher has steadily increased over the last five years to 71% during the 2013-14 school year from 60% in 2009-10. Among other things, the district has launched an incentive program that rewards monthly perfect attendance with drawings for such prizes as movie tickets and iTunes gift cards.

The Attendance Works analysis found that the city of Los Angeles outperformed the national average in keeping low-income students in class. Among L.A. low-income fourth-graders, for instance, 18% were absent three days or more compared with 22% nationally.

Latino students in L.A. attended school more consistently than their national peers. But African Americans recorded more absences: 31% of eighth-graders, for instance, missed three or more days of school compared with 22% of their national peers.

Overall, the analysis found that students in Montana and New Mexico had the worst attendance and those in Texas, Georgia, Illinois, Indiana and Massachusetts had the best.

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