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Pasadena Unified blames high truancy rates on clerical error

After reporting Los Angeles County’s highest truancy rate last year, the Pasadena Unified School District said this week that it made a clerical error, and that its truancy rates are in fact much lower than originally reported.

Though the exact cause of the misreporting is still unclear, the truancy numbers Pasadena principals turned into the district were different than the numbers the California Department of Education received from the district to perform its calculations, according to district spokesman Adam Wolfson. Pasadena Unified's truancy rate was put at 66%, compared to 32.4% in the county and 28.5% in the state.

Late last month, Atty. Gen. Kamala D. Harris declared the California's truancy rates “an attendance crisis,” because one in four elementary school students was considered truant last school year. The truancy rate is calculated as the number of students in a school who are absent for more than 30 minutes on three days in a school year without a valid excuse.

In Pasadena, Altadena Elementary, Cleveland Elementary and San Rafael Elementary all had truancy rates over 90%, according to the original numbers. The new calculations put them at 58.6%, 37.2% and 79.4%, respectively.

“We’re just anxious to get out accurate information,” Wolfson said. “I’m not setting off fireworks and celebrating these numbers, but I think it’s a much more accurate representation of what’s happening in our schools.”

Eric Sahakian, Pasadena's director of child welfare, attendance and safety, said last month that budget cuts in the district and the financial hardship for families during the recession contributed to the high rates. Though the district’s truancy rate has increased since 2008, the original numbers for 2011-12 represented a more than 80% increase at some schools in a single year.

Wolfson said that despite the corrected rates, the district will continue its heightened efforts to improve attendance in the district, which includes sending letters to parents when their children don't show up to school and dispatching a group of volunteers who knock on doors of students who have missed school.

The district cannot submit the revised data to the California Department of Education because the correction period has passed, according to Wolfson.

As of Tuesday, the district had calculated updated numbers for the majority of its schools, with about a dozen more to finish sorting out, Wolfson said.

 

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soumya.karlamangla@latimes.com

 

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