California Department of Education
Taking Center Stage – Act II

Attendance, tardiness, truancy, and the School Attendance Review Board (SARB)

Student attendance affects both student learning and the school budget. Many times, at-risk students are those who are most likely to be chronically tardy or absent. As a result, proactive attendance policies and strategies will help to close the achievement gap.

In the Spotlight

Rancho Cucamonga Middle School, Cucamonga Elementary School District, a 2006 On the Right Track School
The middle school staff members work with the city police department to issue tickets to students who miss school. A student who receives two tickets cannot receive his or her driver’s license until age eighteen, making attendance a much higher priority.

No Child Left Behind (NCLB) requires each school to keep track of truancy data. However, truancy data is like a car’s temperature warning light—it indicates a problem but does not give specifics. The truancy rate merely indicates what percentage of students has been absent from school without a valid excuse for more than any 30-minute period during the school day on three occasions in one school year (Education Code Section 48260). Merely complying with the law to put truancy data on the Consolidated Application does nothing to keep the at-risk student from further disengaging from school. Instead, a high-performing middle grades team will review truancy data to determine:

  • What does the data mean?
  • How should the school use the data?
  • Does it indicate a need for changes in instruction or parental notification?
  • Does it indicate neighborhood problems (such as gangs or substance abuse) that require partnership with the community (government, business, and family)?

When a student is first classified as a truant, Education Code Section 48260.5 mandates parental notification by first-class mail or other reasonable means. This notification can have a significant impact on truancy, and sample letters for parental notification of truancy are available on the Child Welfare & Attendance California Department of Education (CDE) Web site in both English and Spanish.

In cases where individual tardiness and attendance problems become chronic in spite of normal avenues of intervention, the School Attendance Review Boards (SARB) becomes an invaluable tool to get families involved in attendance improvement. Education Code Section 48325 (a)(4) charges the SARB board “to increase the holding power of schools . . .” In this light, SARB is not merely a punitive body but rather serves as another safety net to help students stay in school. SARB efforts are minimally effective if they do not link youths who have persistent attendance problems and their families to all appropriate school and community resources.

The ACSA (Association of California School Administrators) position paper on Equity (March 2005) (Outside Source) emphasizes the important role played by SARB.

Leaders frequently scan the school environment for opportunities that can be leveraged to help all students achieve, even when those opportunities are outside of the classroom. For example, a School Attendance Review Board (SARB) process can become an opportunity to work with the family and staff to garner the support a student needs to stay in school, regain access to the standards and learning. As such, SARBs can be leveraged to achieve equity and access for a student and divert parents and students from the court system by focusing, instead, on an opportunity to help a student stay in school and achieve standards.1

The SARB’s challenge is to use the expertise and resources of the entire board to diagnose the problem and collaborate with the student and family to remedy the factors that led to truancy. The goal is to reduce the dropout rate by increasing the holding power of the public school.

Effective middle schools can work with SARB and use youth development strategies to reengage struggling students (rather than use scare tactics). For example, the school and local SARB can collaborate to send congratulatory letters for improved attendance and promotion to the next grade. A sample of a SARB letter in English (DOC; 28KB; 1p.) is on the CDE Web site.

Student Study Teams and Student Success Teams (SSTs) focus teachers, counselors, and other appropriate professionals on the specific needs of at-risk students, including attendance and truancy issues.


In the Spotlight

Fontana Unified School District
Administrators in Fontana Unified grew concerned about the high rate of suspensions reported monthly by most middle schools in the district. They found that they could dramatically reduce the number of out-of-school suspensions by providing funding for middle schools to establish a supervised suspension classroom pursuant to Education Code Section 48911.1.

If the disruptive student posed no imminent danger or threat and was not recommended for expulsion, the principal or the principal's designee would assign the student to the supervised suspension classroom rather than suspend the student to home. The teacher would provide all the work that the student was missing during the period of the suspension to the supervised suspension classroom teacher. In addition, the student would have access to the school counselor.

When parents received notification that the student was in a supervised suspension classroom, most of them indicated that they felt it was more effective than sending the student home.

Because of the program, suspensions to home were reduced dramatically, and most of the middle schools found teachers who could work well with students in the supervised suspension classrooms.

Related Links

Discipline: a fair, consistent, and positive approach


1ACSA Equity Position Paper (Outside Source), Sacramento: Association of California School Administrators (ACSA), March 2005, 11.

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