Closing the Achievement Gap With Attendance

by Kathryn Ramirez, Trustee, Salinas Union High School District and CSBA Director-at-large, Hispanic

While I am optimistic about the direction education is headed in California, we must acknowledge that far more needs to be done if we are going to close race-based achievement gaps that are all too persistent in California. The solution begins with attendance. After all, how can we hope to close the academic achievement gap if Latino students go to school less than their peers?

Unfortunately, in the new school year, not only will Latino students be absent more than their peers, but they will also dropout at a disproportionate rate. Russell Rumberger, a distinguished professor at UCSB showed that “69 percent of all students who entered high school in the fall of 2003 graduated in 2007.  But only 56 percent of Hispanics and 54 percent of blacks from that class graduated in 2007, compared to 81 percent of Asians and 77 percent of whites.”(1)  It is unrealistic to expect students to learn skills they will need in college and/or their careers if they are not in school to learn them.

While attendance may be an easy solution to the achievement gap puzzle, students’ reasons for being absent are complex, especially for a high school district like mine.

For a variety of reasons Latino students hold jobs in addition to being full-time students. Many families depend on their student’s financial contribution, but we cannot let their jobs keep them away from school. There is little doubt that a high school diploma, and especially a college diploma, are key predictors of a person’s lifetime earnings. A 2011 study by Georgetown University predicted that a person who attains a college degree will earn 84 percent more than someone with a high school diploma(2).

Making school relevant is critical for boosting attendance. What is the point of showing up to school if the experience does not seem meaningful? Linked Learning is one such strategy. Linked Learning is an effort to include cross disciplinary instruction, career-themed experiences and content, and opportunities for solving real-life problems as strategies to increase student motivation, engagement, and learning. However, we also need to think creatively about how we support working students, yet get them to understand the importance of education for long-term career success.

The critical importance of attendance is why we are making it an indicator in our LCAP and investing in a program to reduce chronic absence by 2-3 percent each year. Getting students to school — and providing a meaningful experience while they are there — will go a long way in closing the achievement gap and setting all students up for a fulfilling career.


Kathryn Ramirez, a trustee in the Salinas Union High School District, is the Director-at-Large, Hispanic for the California School Boards Association.




[1] Rumberger, R. W. (2011).  Dropping out: Why students drop out of high school and what can be done about it.  Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.  Page 2.

[2] Carnevale, A. P., Rose, S. J., and Cheah, B. (2011). The college payoff: Education, occupations, lifetime earnings. The Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce.

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