Understanding the link between school attendance and cross-sector needs

February 10, 2023

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  • Poor school attendance is a persistent challenge and a significant barrier to student success, well-being, and graduation rates.
  • In SW Washington, cross-sector partners from education, housing, healthcare, and criminal justice are working to address this issue in partnership with Providence CORE.
  • CORE's work to gather and evaluate cross-sector data is helping illuminate the links between school attendance and local needs.

Poor school attendance is a significant barrier to student success, well-being, and graduation rates. Yet chronic absenteeism, defined as being absent ten percent or more of the school year, remains a persistent challenge. That’s especially true in Washington State, where chronic absence rates are among the highest in the U.S. Furthermore, children experiencing poverty, students from communities of color, and those with disabilities are all disproportionately impacted. And these issues have only grown as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. 

What can communities do to support student attendance and address these inequities? In Southwest Washington, cross-sector partners from education, housing, healthcare, and criminal justice are working with the Providence Center for Outcomes Research and Education (CORE) to understand and answer that question through a program called Community Connections.  

Convening cross-sector partners to address absenteeism 

While the causes of chronic absenteeism are complex, one thing is clear: schools cannot solve this problem alone. That’s why, in 2016, a group of local stakeholders came together to explore how data sharing between schools, healthcare, criminal justice, and housing could illuminate the needs of the SW Washington population and inform strategies to address those needs and, ultimately, improve school attendance. 

The partners include the Clark County Sheriff’s Office, Evergreen Public School District (EPS), Vancouver Public School District (VPS), Vancouver Housing Authority (VHA), and SW Washington Accountable Community of Health (SWACH).  

Connecting the dots between community needs and attendance 

To shape more effective interventions, the partners first needed to understand the needs and characteristics of students in the community. In response, CORE brought together data from the legal, education, housing, and healthcare sectors to answer three broad research questions:  

  • Who are the shared populations that experience poor outcomes across sectors?  
  • To what extent are poor outcomes in one sector associated with poor outcomes in another? For example, do people with housing needs also experience challenges in health care; do they interact with the legal system more frequently than those without housing needs; do they need help in school? 
  • What are the high-priority needs of the shared populations?  

By answering these questions, the partners sought to conduct more effective outreach to the populations they share, provide resources and connections to other sectors based on the priorities of those they serve, and better collaborate to meet local needs.   

Key findings from CORE’s research 

72367 students included in the analysis, 22734 experiencing chronic absenteeism, 15522 chronically absent 1+ school yearAbove all, CORE’s research demonstrated that chronic absenteeism doesn’t happen in a silo; it can cause and be caused by other social and health needs, and addressing it requires interventions outside of the school.  

Our findings reinforced these points through data showing that compared to students present at least 90% of the time, those experiencing chronic absenteeism were: 

  • 1.7 times more likely to be seeking housing assistance through VHA 
  • More likely to have chronic diseases/high health burden 
  • 50% more likely to have an emergency department visit or hospitalization 

The study also found that some populations were more vulnerable to chronic absenteeism than others, including students who are Native Hawaiian/Pacific Islander, Black, Alaskan Native/American Indian, and Hispanic, as well as those who speak Russian or Chuukese. 

However, one promising finding was that among elementary school students seeking housing, receiving housing led to increased attendance. Because external pressures such as housing instability or economic strain often impact school attendance, it’s vital to look across sectors to improve attendance. Providing safe, stable, affordable housing to children experiencing housing instability can have a profound impact on their lives.  

Graphic shows that chronically absent students were 1.7x as likely to seek housing assistance, 50% more likely to have a ed visit or hospital stay

CORE’s research highlights the need for a holistic approach to addressing chronic absenteeism. As CORE’s Hannah Cohen-Cline explains, “It’s not just a matter of getting students to school – it’s about addressing the underlying social and health needs that may be preventing them from attending."  

This project demonstrates the potential impacts of cross-sector data sharing and collaboration in addressing chronic absenteeism. It also underscores the importance of addressing underlying social and health needs in order to improve attendance.  

Read the report: The Community Connections Initiative of SW Washington: Students Experiencing Chronic Absenteeism in Southwest Washington 

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