Study engages nation’s teens for insight into skipping school

Wednesday, Aug. 29, 2012 | 2 a.m.

Las Vegas Sun 

Playing hooky can negatively impact students’ long-term academic success, but few teenagers know it, according to a national report on chronic absenteeism released Wednesday.

About 7 million students — 15 percent of all American schoolchildren — miss a month or more of school each year, according to the Get Schooled Foundation. Truant students are less likely to graduate from high school or go to college than their more diligent peers, the nonprofit states in its report, “Skipping to Nowhere.”

Although much research has been done on the correlation between attendance and student achievement, there has been little research on the mindset of teenagers who choose to skip school, said the foundation’s executive director Marie Groark.

That’s why the foundation, in partnership with Hart Research Associates, asked more than 500 students from 25 American cities, including Las Vegas, to share their views about missing school.

Here’s are the key findings of Get Schooled’s survey of these eighth- to 12th-graders:

• Truancy cuts across all student demographics. “Skippers” live in rural and urban school districts and represent all races. The majority of truant students come from two-parent households and report their household incomes to be “average or above average.”

• Students begin to cut school in middle school, and it becomes an established behavior by the end of ninth grade. Juniors and seniors post the highest absentee rates.

• Nearly half of truant students surveyed said they were absent about once a week or more. These “habitual skippers” are most at risk of dropping out of high school. Even students who cut class a few times a month are more likely to need remedial classes in college and are less likely to graduate from college.

• Although schools track truancy rates, survey respondents say teachers and parents rarely notice when they cut class. Even when adults notice, the report found that the majority of truant students faced “mundane consequences,” such as detention or getting grounded.

• The overwhelming majority of students realizes that cutting class a few times a week will cause them to fall behind in classes. However, few teenagers see any problems with skipping school a few times a month.

• Most students cut school because they say “it’s boring,” or they don’t like the teacher or class. Some said school started too early.

• About two-thirds of students said they hung out with friends when playing hooky. A little more than a third said they slept when they cut class. Only 6 percent of survey respondents said they worked or took care of relatives when they cut class.

Researchers pointed to New York City as a model of how school districts across the nation could address chronic absenteeism.

Two years ago, Mayor Michael Bloomberg established an interagency task force to launch the city’s “war on truancy.” One of every five students in New York City missed more than a month of school – these truant students were less likely to pass state regents exams and were more likely to be arrested in the future, said Lisa Cornfield, chairwoman of the city’s truancy task force.

The task force started a mentoring program for 5,000 at-risk students to curb absenteeism. The group solicited help from celebrities such as Magic Johnson and Whoopi Goldberg to conduct wake-up calls to students, encouraging them to get to school on time. The city also created a “data dashboard” to identify at-risk students and work with them to ensure they wouldn’t stop coming to class.

“What we’re doing in New York City can be applied to any city,” Cornfield told reporters during a conference call Tuesday. “This isn’t a problem that any school district can solve on its own.”

In Nevada, school attendance is compulsory until age 18. The Clark County School District, which has an average 95 percent attendance rate, has taken on a number of New York City’s suggestions, including establishing a mentorship program last year to help at-risk students at 10 low-performing high schools.

One of those schools, Chaparral High School, also participated last year in Get Schooled’s contest to boost student attendance rates. The “turnaround” school’s assistant principal Todd Peterson said Chaparral’s attendance rate jumped three points to 93 percent last year.

To reward the Chapparal’s improvement, Get Schooled sponsored a screening of the latest Mission Impossible movie for 1,600 students, Peterson said. However, with larger class sizes this year, making sure kids don’t fall through the cracks will be difficult, he added.

“When you have 40 kids in a class, it’s a challenge,” Peterson said. “It could take a week or two to realize kids are missing (in class).”

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