Truancy, student moves challenge District 118

Danville High School students fill the stairwells as they pass between classes earlier this year. The Illinois State Report Card released this week takes a look at the district’s performance.

DANVILLE – A steady decline in student enrollment during the last few years and a significant increase in chronic truancy were areas of concern for Danville District 118 administrators when the 2019 Illinois Report Card was released Oct. 30 by the Illinois State Board of Education.

Districtwide, total student enrollment in 2019 was 5,505, which is a loss of 635 students during the last six years. Enrollment has been steadily decreasing with 5,631 students in 2018; 5,912 in 2017; 6,036 in 2016; 6,012 in 2015; and 6,140 in 2014.

Official enrollment counts reflect students enrolled as of the last school day in September of the previous year.

Assistant Superintendent of Elementary Education John Hart said District 118’s decrease in enrollment was “no different than other districts” in the county and in the state. Among Vermilion County school districts, Salt Fork saw the largest growth in enrollment in 2019 with 14 students.

“A lot of people are leaving the state of Illinois,” he said.

Last year, ISBE launched a new Illinois Report Card that focuses less on standardized test scores and more on other indicators of student success, such as rate of truancy, absenteeism, mobility and graduation rate counts.

Using those factors, the state assigns each school one of four summative designations — exemplary, commendable, underperforming and lowest performing — to help families and communities understand how well their schools are serving students.

None of District 118’s schools was designated as exemplary, and two additional schools were considered lowest performing this year compared to last year. The state deemed Danville High School, Liberty Elementary, Northeast Elementary Magnet and Southwest Elementary as commendable; Mark Denman Elementary and North Ridge Middle School as underperforming; and Edison Elementary, Garfield Elementary, Meade Park Elementary and South View Upper Elementary as lowest performing.

Superintendent Alicia Geddis said significant chronic absenteeism and student mobility — which is when students transfer in and out of schools and districts — were the main reasons that the four schools were deemed lowest performing.

A school’s student mobility rate is the percentage of students who experienced at least one transfer in or out of the school between the first school day of October and the last school day of the year.

At Meade Park, 37 percent of students were chronically absent and one-third of the students were mobile; at Edison, 40 percent of students were chronically absent and one-third were mobile; at Garfield, 30 percent of students were chronically absent and one-third were mobile; and at South View, 35 percent were chronically absent, she said.

The mobility rate at Meade Park, Edison, and Garfield means “one-third of the kids have attended another school or school district during the year,” Hart said.

“If you know anything about poverty, children move every 90 days,” Geddis said, adding that having a significant mobility rate in the district “really screams that there’s a poverty challenge.”

Hart agreed. “We’ve had a family move three times since April, and we just helped them find a place to live.”

“It isn’t that kids can’t learn,” Geddis said. “This is a challenge of poverty. It’s hard to teach them when they’re not here.

“We’re struggling to educate children who are not here,” she said. “It’s hard to hit a target that’s not here. Other districts don’t have these challenges.”

Meade Park Elementary and South Upper Elementary were designated as lowest performing also in 2018 and have been working with learning partners to make improvements. Learning partners are consultants that look at the school’s data, make recommendations and offer professional development, Geddis said.

Edison and Garfield now will work with learning partners as well, and the schools will receive extra funding to help remediate them, Hart said.

On the state report card, it appears the district’s student mobility rate decreased by about 50 percent to 18 percent in 2019 and 17 percent in both 2017 and 2018 from 33 percent in 2016 and 31 percent in both 2014 and 2015. In reality, the district’s student mobility didn’t drop drastically, but rather ISBE changed how the mobility rate is reported. Prior to 2017, the total incidents of students transferring in or out caused a duplicate count for students who transferred in or out more than once during the year.

Absenteeism and truancy

Chronic absenteeism and chronically truant students also were an issue for District 118 in 2019. Most notably, the district’s chronic truancy rate more than doubled in the past year to 41.9 percent in 2019 from 18.9 percent in 2018.

Illinois law defines “chronic absenteeism” as when a student misses 10 percent or more of the academic year for any reason, including excused and unexcused absences, suspensions or time missed due to changing schools. Based on a 180-day school year, that means a student who misses 18 days or more of school per year is considered chronically absent.

A student between the ages of 6 and 17 is considered a “chronic or habitual truant” when he or she misses 5 percent or more of their total enrollment days without a valid excuse. Based on a 180-day school year, that means a student who misses nine days or more of school while enrolled – no matter the length of time -- is considered chronically truant.

In 2019, the percentage of chronically absent students in District 118 was more than double the statewide average, and the district’s chronically truant rate was more than three times higher than the statewide average.

In District 118, 41 percent of students were chronically absent and 41.9 percent were chronically truant last year. By comparison, 18 percent of Illinois students were chronically absent and 13.4 percent were chronically truant last year.

At Danville High School, 67 percent of the students are chronically absent, according to the state report card.

During the last five years, chronic truancy has been on the increase locally and statewide, according to the state report card. In 2015, 12 percent of Danville students and 9 percent of Illinois students were chronically truant. In 2019, 41.9 percent of Danville students and 13.4 percent of Illinois students were chronically truant.

“We want the kids who are sick to stay home,” Geddis emphasized.

But she added the reminder: “Every child — when you’re sick, at a (non-school) activity, or on a family vacation, along with suspension days, those count toward being chronically absent.

“When they (students) leave and don’t register right away at another school, those days are counted as being absent and they count against us,” Geddis said of the district.

Hart agreed. “They’re still on our roll because no one has called to request school records.”

Chronic absenteeism also frequently happens when a student’s family leaves to visit family out-of-town during winter break and then is delayed upon returning to Danville.

“At the holidays, they go home and sometimes it becomes extended,” Hart said. “Sometimes they might not be able to catch a bus until Monday after school is already back in session.

“That’s why we’ve started discouraging families from taking vacations during the school year,” he added.

Hart said the district is making a concerted effort to lower chronic absenteeism and chronic truancy by adding supports for students and their families.

“We’ve brought in home interventionists and a school psychologist, and we’ve partnered with Rosecrance,” he said. “We have staff that will pick up students and take them to school and appointments.”

Other data

Other data in the state report card pertaining to the district’s students include information on low income students, 73.1 percent in the district compared with 48.8 percent statewide; student homelessness, 2 percent in the district which is equivalent to the 2 percent statewide; student attendance, 90.4 percent in the district compared with 94 percent statewide.

The district’s graduation rate among students who graduate within four years dropped to 70 percent in 2019 from what had been an improvement in 2018 at 74 percent, after recording 71 percent in 2017, 70 percent in 2016 and 73 percent in 2015. By comparison, the statewide graduate rate during the same five-year period averaged 86 percent.

The district’s dropout spiked in 2019 at 12 percent after three years of steady decline. The dropout rate is the percentage of students in grades 9-12 whose names have been removed from a district’s enrollment roster for any reason, including moved and not known to be continuing their education, transferred to a GED-program, or aged out. The percentage does not include death, extended illness, graduation/completion of a program of studies, transfer to another public/private/home school, or expulsion.

In 2019, District 118’s dropout rate was 12 percent compared with 4 percent statewide. In 2018, the district’s dropout rate was 5 percent, 7 percent in 2017, and 8 percent in 2016.

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