District turns to Harvard to crack chronic absenteeism in schools

November 29, 2018

Proving Ground's collaboration with Palm Beach County Schools to improve student attendance is featured in the following article by the Palm Beach Post. 

Palm Beach County schools team with Harvard University to curb chronic student absences.

Thanksgiving week historically has been troublesome in Palm Beach County schools — for years student absences before the long holiday weekend would spike. So two years ago, district officials decided to give everyone the whole week off. Problem solved.

The larger problem of chronic absenteeism, however, has been nearly impossible to crack, say district leaders.

For the last decade, the rate of students who miss more than 10 days in a year has barely budged, hovering just above 20 percent. And a significant number, some 20,000 students across the county, chalk up three weeks’ worth of absences in a school year — meeting the nation’s gold-standard definition of “chronically absent.”

While absences pile up, the lessons and knowledge that are lost snowball, eventually dinging grades, test scores and graduation rates even years down the road.

If a student misses the basics in just a few math or language lessons, for example, the lessons built on the ones missed can be lost as well, even if the student is in the room.

“The patterns get established and they’re stubborn,” said Mark Howard, the district’s chief of performance and accountability. This year, the district is one of eight across the country that have sought the help of Harvard University’s Center for Education Policy Research and what researchers there call their “Proving Ground.”


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