Interagency Council Looks at Chronic Absenteeism and the Achievement Gap

Nov 7, 2013

Credit Chion Wolf / WNPR

The Interagency Council for Ending the Achievement Gap met Thursday in Hartford. The focus of the discussion was chronically absent students. It's a simple equation: a student can't learn if they are not in school. 

The State Department of Educations's Ajit Gopalakrishnan presented some pretty dramatic statistics Thursday to prove that point. "If a child eligible for free lunch was chronically absent in ninth grade," he said, "37.8 percent of them actually got to the finish line, with graduation in four years."

"But among those same group of kids," Gopalakrishnan said, "who were eligible for free lunch -- our poorest children -- if they have satisfactory attendance, 85.5 percent of them actually graduate."

Chronic absenteeism is a problem almost solely associated with poor families and families of color. Gopalakrishnan said some factors contributing to school absences can include "inadequate health care, high family mobility, low maternal education, food insecurity, ineffective parent engagement, and high levels of community violence." Solving the problem requires collaborative efforts, he emphasized, among schools, communities, and families.

Thursday's meeting looked at some of the school districts that have been able to make a dent in chronic absences, including New Britain, which cut chronic absenteeism by 30 percent. "They actually have folks that are out knocking on doors, going to where people work, and engaging with the parents," said Laura Downs, an education consultant who has been working with the New Britain school system.

The Interagency Council for Ending the Achievement Gap is chaired by Lt. Governor Nancy Wyman, and consists of commissioners and representatives from a host of state agencies. The council was formed to assist the Achievement Gap Task Force in the development of a master plan for the state. Connecticut has one of the largest achievement gaps between students from affluent and poor families.