Early data from the Detroit district show push to improve attendance is starting to pay off

The Detroit district ended the school year with more students attending class than last year.  

Superintendent Nikolai Vitti told school board members during meetings Friday and Monday that the rate of chronic absenteeism was 63% at the end of the school year. That’s still high, but last year the rate was more than 70%. The rates indicate the percentage of students who missed 18 or more days during the school year.

The numbers aren’t final yet, but Vitti said he expects the decrease will hold up.

The drop represents key progress toward efforts to get more students in school every day. The district’s rate of chronic absence is well above the state average of 20%.

“I think a lot of people doubted if we could ever move these numbers,” Vitti told members at the school board’s curriculum committee meeting Monday.

Vitti attributed the decrease in part to changes in the student code of conduct that were designed to reduce the number of students being suspended and expelled. The district had 27% fewer suspensions during the school year that just ended.

Schools also benefited from efforts to place attendance agents in every school in the district. During the 2017-18 school year, just a quarter of the schools had an in-house attendance agents, while others shared a team of 18 attendance agents.

Meanwhile, the school board recently approved the purchase of a handful of passenger vans that will in part be used to pick up chronically absent students and bring them to school.