Portland schools study attendance data in effort to achieve equity

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The Portland School Board is evaluating attendance data in its efforts to provide equity for all students.

The board discussed the data for the first time at its meeting on Nov. 16.

The days between Sept. 1 and Oct. 15 over the last four school years are being used as a benchmark to see which groups of students have faced attendance challenges, and to find steps that can be taken to address those issues.

Portland Public Schools logoThe focus is on chronic absenteeism, which is defined as missing 10 percent or more of days enrolled.

The study is one of several efforts by Portland Public Schools to ensure students have equal access to succeed in academics. 

The data has shown that economically disadvantaged students and English learners have been more likely to be chronically absent and tended to struggle with the pandemic more than advantaged students. 

Data also shows that Latinx students have the highest rates of chronic absenteeism in Maine and that the rate is continuing to rise in Portland: 38 percent of Latinx students this school year are chronically absent in Portland schools.

Newly re-elected board Chair Emily Figdor highlighted the importance of continuing to strive for equity in the classroom in her State of the Schools Address on Nov. 15. She acknowledged the gaps between economically disadvantaged students and more advantaged students and said eliminating those gaps has become the board’s “central focus.”

Assistant Superintendent Aaron Townsend said improving attendance comes down to many factors, including improving accessibility and quality of instruction, and developing a safe and positive culture so students can feel a sense of belonging and connection in school.

Townsend said the study is part of the district’s work to “continue to improve attendance as a foundational piece around creating the opportunity for students to achieve academically.”

The School Department will provide what is being called an opportunity to “recognize and respond to the voices of students and traditionally underrepresented parents” on Saturday, Dec. 4, with a High School Latinx and Family Engagement Session.

The event is billed as an effort to help students and families connect within their schools and allow their concerns to be heard.

At the Nov. 16 meeting the board took another step toward equity when it got rid of the Advanced Placement exam requirement for students in AP classes. The change is intended to encourage students to take those challenging courses.