Almost a thousand K-12 students at Sacramento City Unified are “significantly disengaged,” meaning they are connecting with the school system just two days a week or less, according to data from the district.
The school district says 2.25% of approximately 42,000 enrolled students are logging into class, submitting an assignment, or otherwise interacting with the school system just 40% of the time, at the most. In December of 2019, just 0.16% of the student population was attending at such low levels.
“More than 10 times more students are significantly disengaged than last year,” said Jennifer Kretschman, an attendance coordinator at Sacramento City Unified School District.
She says it’s a troubling trend. Such low attendance rates haven’t been well studied, but in the past, students who miss school — to a much smaller degree — have been known to have significant problems later on.
“We know that [attendance] at 90% or less, students are more likely to drop out, not graduate, not have good jobs, end up in jail or prison,” she said.
Kretschman says African American kids, students with unstable housing, and foster children are especially struggling with online learning during the pandemic.
Lucrecia Santibañez, a professor of education at UCLA, says kids could be missing school for a variety of reasons. Technical problems could interfere with them logging into classes. Some kids may have space limitations at home, or they need to take care of sick family members.
“People are in situations where they sometimes have to go take Zoom in their car, or just get outside their home, because there’s a lot going on there. So there’s just a lot of distractions,” she said.
One high school teacher at Luther Burbank High School in Sacramento told CapRadio that several of his students are not attending school because they’re working full time so that they can support their families financially.
Santibañez co-authored a study last October about the academic and emotional impact of missed school on students before the pandemic. The researchers found that even just a few weeks of missed school can result in lower test scores, particularly in math.
She says school districts can help kids who have lost learning during the pandemic in a variety of ways, including giving them the option to repeat a grade, but not forcing them to do so.
“Summer enrichment and remediation opportunities are going to be important. Tutoring has been proven to be highly effective...maybe small group tutoring or one-on-one tutoring,” she said.
It’s difficult to compare Sacramento City Unified’s level of significant student disengagement to the statewide average. The state doesn’t comprehensively track this threshold of student attendance, according to the California Department of Education, though it does require local school systems to keep track of that daily attendance.
However, the neighboring, suburban school district of Elk Grove has also reported an increase in significantly disengaged students.
Elk Grove Unified School District, the largest in Northern California with nearly 65,000 students, reports 1.12% of its students attended only 40% of the school week or less in 2020. That’s up from just 0.38% of the student population in 2019.
Oakland Unified School district, with 50,202 students, is reporting a 1.7% rate of students connecting two days a week or less.
Kretschman says the discrepancy in very low attendance rates between the school districts may be due in part because of differing policies about when to unenroll “truant” students.
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