Attendance - Every School Day Counts
Why is reducing chronic absence so important?
- Students suffer academically if they miss 10% or more of school days.
- Studies show that children who miss too many days in kindergarten and 1st grade often have trouble mastering reading by the end of 3rd grade. Attending school regularly helps children feel better about school—and themselves.
- When children are absent, schools get fewer resources from the state, resulting in less funding to pay for teachers and books. Chronic absence in kindergarten predicts chronic absence the following year, so even the attendance patterns of our youngest students affect funding down the road.
- For every day of missed school, it takes three days to make up what was missed.
- By the 6th grade, if a student continues to be chronically absent, it is a leading indicator of whether he or she will drop out of high school.
- In the 9th grade, chronic absences are a better indicator than test scores of a student’s likelihood to graduate from high school.
Children living in poverty are two to three times more likely to be chronically absent—and face the most harm because their community lacks the resources to make up for the lost learning in school. Students from communities of color as well as those with disabilities are disproportionately affected.
This isn’t simply a matter of truancy or skipping school. In fact, many of these absences, especially among our youngest students, are excused. Often absences are tied to health problems, such as asthma, diabetes, and oral and mental health issues. Other barriers including lack of a nearby school bus, a safe route to school or food insecurity make it difficult to go to school every day. In many cases, chronic absence goes unnoticed because schools are counting how many students show up every day rather than examining how many and which students miss so much school that they are falling behind.
While chronic absence presents academic challenges for students not in class, when it reaches high levels in a classroom or school, all students may suffer because it can hamper a teachers’ ability to engage all students and meet their learning needs. (attendanceworks.org)
How to address chronic absenteeism
Tackling the problem of absenteeism requires a collaborative approach among the school, parents and the child to understand the barriers that are causing the child to be absent. Families need to work with the schools to help identify strategies that can assist in improving attendance like scheduling appointments and vacations when school is not in session.
It’s important to analyze the data around the student’s absences, as sometimes parents’ beliefs about their student’s total absences may be inaccurate. Parents may believe that their child has missed far fewer days of school than they have. There may be other contributing factors for the number of absences like arriving late and leaving early, which adds up to days of lost instruction.
Children should be allowed to stay home when they are truly sick, but oftentimes that occasional stomachache is more a sign of anxiety than a contagious virus. Families need to work with the schools to help identify strategies that can assist in lessening the anxiety, rather than allowing the child to stay home, which usually leads to increased anxiety, as they now have missed the instruction needed to complete the missing assignments. Children must be present and engaged if they are to benefit from what is taught in school.
The school can reduce absenteeism by creating a welcoming student-centered environment for children and families, and promote family engagement activities. The expectation of good attendance should be embedded into the culture of the classroom, the family and the student. When absences begin adding up, the issue should be addressed in a supportive manner. (Becky Foley)
Schools, communities, and advocates across the nation have successfully taken steps to ensure children are attending school more regularly. What works is to take a data-driven, comprehensive approach that begins with engaging students and families as well as preventing absences from adding up before students fall behind academically. The key is using chronic absence data as a diagnostic tool to identify where prevention and early intervention are needed. With this data in hand, schools, families and community partners can together determine the causes of chronic absence, and implement approaches that address barriers to getting to class. Learn more about strategies to address chronic absenteeism by visiting the Attendance Works website.
Attendance Works has also developed numerous resources for parents and families, including toolkits and handouts. Click here to visit their page for families and family organizations.