Absenteeism still a problem for Montclair schools, report cards say
By ERIN ROLL
The Montclair School District still has some work to do with its student absenteeism rate, according to data recently released from the New Jersey Department of Education.
The state released the 2017-2018 school performance reports on March 13.
For the 2017-2018 school year, 15.7 percent of Montclair High School students were chronically absent from school, the highest rate of absenteeism among Montclair’s 11 schools. The schools with the next highest absenteeism rates were Renaissance at 11.5 percent, and Edgemont at 10.7 percent.
Those three schools had absenteeism rates that exceeded the state averages: 8.5 percent for elementary schools, 9.5 percent for middle schools, and 14 percent for high schools.
District-wide, 9.9 percent of the district’s students were absent in the 2017-2018 school year, up from 9.6 percent in the 2016-2017 school year. The district-wide absenteeism levels were below the state average of 10.9 percent.
A student is defined as chronically absent under New Jersey state law when they are absent from school for 10 percent of all regular attendance days: 18 days out of an 180-day school calendar, the minimum number of days that school must be in session for students.
The rates of chronic absenteeism in Montclair were found to be highest among African-American and Latino students, as well as economically-disadvantaged students and students with disabilities.
District-wide, there were 266 African-American students who were chronically absent, or 16.1 percent of that student group; 222 white students, or 6.5 percent of that group; 112 Hispanic or Latino students, or 14.2 percent of that group; 26 Asian or Pacific Islander students, or 6.9 percent of that group; 27 students of two or more races, or 6.4 percent of that group; and two Native American students or 20 percent of that group.
There were 214 economically-disadvantaged students who were chronically absent, representing 20.8 percent of that student group; and 241 students with disabilities, representing 20 percent of that student group.
The DOE placed Montclair under a corrective action plan in 2018 because of the absenteeism rates.
Students have pointed to concerns such as a lack of easy transportation to and from neighborhoods such as Montclair’s south end. In 2018, NJ Transit and the township agreed to designate a new bus stop by Montclair High School. However, students have also called on the district to adjust bus schedules to include more to and from the south end.
Since the corrective action plan was put in place, the district sent out a letter to parents in February reminding them of the schools’ attendance policies.
Since that time, the schools have also been having outreach meetings with chronically absent students and their families, as well as meetings with students at school to tell them about the importance of school attendance. said Superintendent Kendra Johnson. She was unable to comment what progress had been made as a result of those meetings.
The report includes information on academics, in the form of two assessments: how well students did on the most recent English and math standardized tests, and how students through through eighth grade have progressed compared to their peers. This is known as the student growth percentile.
On standardized testing, 59.2 percent of Montclair’s students met or exceeded expectations on English language assessments, and 48.1 percent of students met or exceeded expectations on math assessments.
At the state level, 56.2 percent of students received passing grades on English language tests, and 45 percent of students got passing grades on math tests. With the exception of Montclair High School, Glenfield and Renaissance, all of Montclair’s schools out-performed their peers at the state level on the two tests.
All students are tested with the exception of Nishuane. Testing begins in the third grade and Nishuane only serves children through second grade.
Most of Montclair schools met or exceeded their benchmarks with test scores and in terms of student growth, with some exceptions.
Glenfield was just shy of meeting standards on the English and math tests for 2017-2018, with 55.3 percent of students getting a grade of proficient or better on the English test and 44 percent of students getting a grade of proficient or better on math. Nor did the school meet the student growth benchmarks in English: the average student growth percentile was 29, below the minimum standard of 44.
Renaissance likewise missed its benchmarks for the English and math tests, and for student growth in ELA. On the English test, 55.5 percent of students got a passing grade, just below the minimum of 56.7 percent. On the math test, 39.5 percent of students got a passing grade, below the state minimum of 45 percent. For language arts, the average student growth percentile was 36.
Montclair High School did not meet benchmarks on either standardized tests. On the English language test, 53.2 percent of students got a passing grade, below the standard of 56.7 percent, and on the math test, only 36 percent got a passing grade, below the standard of 45 percent.
Montclair has traditionally seen a large number of students opt out of PARCC.