A Nov. 30 Albuquerque Public Schools email warns parents that if a student misses 20% or more of school, the Children Youth and Family Department may be notified.
“This is because missing this much school really puts your child at high risk for getting behind in school,” the email reads. “Please rest assured, that if the absences are only due to illness and you have a health plan with the School Nurse, your family will not be referred to CYFD.”
The email discusses absenteeism due to illness and quarantines, but there is nothing in the email assuring families facing housing insecurity that they will not be referred to CYFD because of chronic absences.
According to data released by the state Public Education Department, students in the Albuquerque Public School district facing housing insecurity have the greatest number of unexcused absences for the last four years of data that are available.
The chronic absentee rate is also highest among students facing housing insecurity, statewide, district-wide, and among five APS high schools on the east side of the city that data was observed for.
Among the five high schools — La Cueva, Eldorado, Sandia, Del Norte and Manzano — Manzano consistently had the greatest number of enrolled students facing housing insecurity and La Cueva the least. La Cueva had fewer than 20 students enrolled who were facing housing insecurity for three of the years observed.
Chronic absentee rate
Albuquerque Public Schools says chronic absenteeism “means a student who has been absent for ten (10) percent or more school days for any reason, whether excused or not, when enrolled for more than ten days in the school.” In a full school year, 10% is equivalent to 18 missed days.
The Nov. 20 APS email sent out to parents says, “If you get a letter that says your child has missed either 10% (or more) and/or 20% (or more) of school, and their absences are because of an illness or medical condition, please set up a meeting with your child’s school to discuss how they can partner with you to keep your child engaged in learning.”
Of the five schools observed, Manzano had the highest chronic absentee rate in 2021-22 and La Cueva the lowest.
The Title I McKinney Vento Program estimates there are about 4,000 homeless or unaccompanied youth in Albuquerque. “It’s a high percentage of kids who are living in a hotel, living in a car, living on a couch of an aunt or uncle. It’s all transitional housing,” Erin Leue-Chavez said earlier this year. “The resiliency that you see, for some kids, if they can just be given some of the tools.”
Leue-Chavez is the facilitator at the APS Clothing Bank and School Supply Barn, whose mission statement says, “No student should miss a day of school due to inappropriate or inadequate clothing or school supplies.”
The lack of clothing or school supplies are not the only reason students facing housing insecurity miss school, though. Some don’t have any transportation or face challenges using school or city buses. Others have to work to pay the bills, take care of family members or have simply given up on the idea that school is of any benefit to them.
At La Cueva and Eldorado, where there were far fewer enrolled students facing housing insecurity than Sandia, Del Norte or Manzano, the chronic absentee rate was also lower, yet Eldorado’s chronic absentee rate among students who do face housing insecurity was about the same as Manzano’s last year, a school with a large population of students facing housing insecurity.
For the 2021-22 school year, Eldorado, Del Norte and Manzano had a greater chronic absentee rate among students facing housing insecurity than the district as a whole.
Students facing housing insecurity had the greatest number of unexcused absences
District-wide, the greatest number of unexcused absences were from students facing housing insecurity for all years observed. The data includes all public schools in the Albuquerque district, including magnet and charter schools. On average, students facing housing insecurity had 12.03 unexcused absences in the 2018-19 school year, 6.94 in 2019-2020, 21.27 in 2020-21 and 14.6 unexcused absences in the 2021-22 school year.
For the 2021-22 school year, economically disadvantaged students had the second-greatest number of unexcused absences district-wide, with an average of 8.32 absences. Students who are English language learners and students with disabilities had the third and fourth most unexcused absences for the year.
When comparing the five high schools in northeast Albuquerque, students facing housing insecurity also had the highest number of unexcused absences for almost every year observed. For the 2019-20 school year, students with disabilities enrolled at Del Norte had the greatest number of unexcused absences, but students facing housing insecurity had the greatest number of excused absences at the school for that year.
The highest number of unexcused absences among students facing housing insecurity was at Sandia in the 2020-21 school year, with an average of 30.5 unexcused absences. The lowest number was at La Cueva during the 2019-20 school year, when students facing housing insecurity had an average of 4.5 unexcused absences.
Why it matters: attendance and school success are correlated
The APS attendance webpage says, “Student attendance is a critical educational component. Students, families and APS personnel must work together to promote student success by encouraging daily student attendance. Attendance positively correlates to student success and should not be treated as a disciplinary issue, but rather lead to conversations with students and families to improve attendance.”
The National Center for Educational Statistics, which publishes its own research and cites numerous academic articles, notes that, “The primary rationale for high-quality attendance data is the relationship between student attendance and student achievement. Teacher effectiveness is the strongest school-related determinant of student success, but chronic student absence reduces even the best teacher’s ability to provide learning opportunities.”
The center also shows that poor attendance early in a student’s schooling leads to negative outcomes in subsequent years, including a greater likelihood of dropping out of high school.
It’s no surprise then that some of the best-rated high schools in Albuquerque also have some of the lowest rates of chronic absenteeism, and some of the fewest students facing housing insecurity.