Chronic truancy down at some D.C. middle schools

An astonishing 54 percent of Eliot-Hine Middle School students--148 of its 275 students-- were “chronically truant,” in 2008-09, meaning they had accumulated 15 or more unexcused absences. Middle school truancy rates were just as bad at Kelly Miller (53 percent, 212 of 400 students) and MacFarland (55 percent, 87 of 158), and bad enough at Sousa (35 percent, 78 of 225) and Kramer (27 percent, 90 of 332).

But the data submitted to D.C. Council Chairman Kwame R.Brown (D) for last week’s hearing show what appears to be a significant decline in chronic truancy at middle schools and PS-8 campuses.

At Eliot-Hine, which figures prominently in plans for improving Ward 6 middle school options, chronic truancy was down to 24 percent in 2010-11 (73 of 310). That still won’t garner any awards, but it’s an improvement nonetheless. Kelly Miller (Ward 7) dropped to 10 percent last school year (42 of 411 students). MacFarland (Ward 4) took the single biggest dip to 2 percent (just 3 of 166 students). Sousa (Ward 7) and Kramer (Ward 8) showed big decreases as well.

While correlation doesn’t mean causation, as social scientists are fond of saying, it’s worth noting that these schools were all sites for the Full Service School (FSS) model launched in 2008. It meant that each received extra staffing, including an additional assistant principal, a mental health clinician and caseworkers to intervene with students who need help.

But two truancy rates at two other full service middle schools--Johnson and Jefferson--while lower to begin with, have grown since the advent of FSS. For the others, better attendance hasn’t necessarily translated into improved academic performance, as least in terms of the DC CAS. Sousa and Eliot-Hine showed big bumps in 2008-09. At Kramer, Kelly Miller and MacFarland, scores have been consistently dismal.

Bill Turque, who covers Montgomery County government and politics, has spent more than thirty years as a reporter and editor for The Washington Post, Newsweek, the Dallas Times Herald and The Kansas City Star.

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