Daily School Attendance Matters!

Negative Impact of Absenteeism for All Grades and Socio-Economic Groups

6.5 million schoolchildren, roughly 13%, are chronically absent from school; absenteeism is directly related to high school drop-out rates. GETTY Images

While most educators, students, and parents think of September as "back-to-school" month, that same month recently has been given another important education designation. Attendance Works, a national initiative that is "dedicated to improving the policy, practice and research" around school attendance has named September as National Attendance Awareness Month.  

Student absences are at crisis levels.

A September 2016 report "Preventing Missed Opportunity: Taking Collective Action to Confront Chronic Absence" using data provided by the U.S. Department of Education, Office for Civil Rights (OCR) reveals that, "the promise of an equal opportunity to learn is being broken for far too many children."

"More than 6.5 million students, or about 13 percent, miss three or more weeks of school, which is enough time to erode their achievement and threaten their chance of graduating. Nine out of 10 U.S. school districts experience some level of chronic absenteeism among students."

To counter this problem, Attendance Works, a fiscally-sponsored project of the Child and Family Policy Center non-profit organization, is working as a national and state initiative that promotes better policy and practice around school attendance. According to the organization's website,

"We [Attendance Works] promote tracking chronic absence data for each student beginning in kindergarten, or ideally earlier, and partnering with families and community agencies to intervene when poor attendance is a problem for students or schools."

Attendance is a critically important factor in education, from developing national funding formulas to predicting graduation outcomes.  Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), which guides federal investments in elementary and secondary education for states, has chronic absenteeism as reporting element.

 At every grade level, in every school district, across the nation, educators know first hand that too many absences can disrupt a student's learning and the learning of others.

Research on Attendance

A student is considered chronically absent if they miss only two days of school per month (18 days in a year), whether the absences are excused or unexcused. Research shows that by middle and high school, chronic absence is a leading warning sign that a student will drop out. This research from the National Center on Educational Statistics noted that differences in absentee rates and projections for graduation were observed as early as kindergarten. Those students who eventually dropped out of high school had missed significantly more days of school in first grade than their peers who later graduated from high school. Moreover, in a study by E. Allensworth and J. Q. Easton, (2005) called The On-Track Indicator as a Predictor of High School Graduation:

"In eighth grade, this [attendance] pattern was even more apparent and, by ninth grade, attendance was shown to be a key indicator significantly correlated with high school graduation" (Allenworth/Easton).

Their study found attendance and studying more predictive of dropout than test scores or other student characteristics. In fact,

"9th grade attendance was a better predictor of [student] dropout than 8th grade test scores."

Steps can be taken at at the upper grade levels, grades 7-12, and Attendance Works offers several suggestions to counter attitudes that prevent students from attending school. These suggestions include:

  • incentives/rewards/recognition provided for good attendance;
  • personal calls (to home, to students) as reminders; 
  • adult mentors and after school leaders trained to reinforce the importance of attendance;
  • curriculum that features engaging, team-based activities that students do not want to miss;  
  • academic support provided to students who are struggling; 
  • efforts to make school a place of success rather than a negative experience;
  • engaging community partners, such as, health providers and criminal justice agencies.
     

 National Assessment for Educational Progress (NAEP) Test Data

A state-by-state analysis of NAEP  testing data shows that students who miss more school than their peers score lower on the NAEP tests in grades 4 and 8.

These lower scores were found to be consistently true in every racial and ethnic group and in every state and city examined. In many cases, "the students with more absences have skill levels one to two years below their peers." In addition,

 "While students from low-income families are more likely to be chronically absent, the ill effects of missing too much school hold true for all socio-economic groups."

Grade 4 test data,  absentee students scored an average 12 points lower on the reading assessment than those with no absences — more than a full grade level on the NAEP achievement scale. Supporting the theory that academic loss is cumulative,  Grade 8 absentee students scored an average 18 points lower on the math assessment. 

Mobile Apps Connect to Parents and Other Stakeholders

Communication is one way educators can work to reduce student absenteeism. There are a growing number of mobile apps educators can use to connect educators with students and parents. These software platforms share the daily classroom activities (EX: Collaborize Classroom, Google Classroom, Edmodo). Many of these platforms allow parents and authorized stakeholders to see short and long term assignments and individual student work.

Other mobile messaging apps (Remind, BloomzClasspager, Class DojoParent Square) are great resources to increase regular communication between a student's home and school.  These messaging platforms can allow teachers to emphasize attendance from day one. These mobile apps can be tailored to providing student updates on individual attendance or used to sharing data about the importance of attendance in order to promote a culture of attendance all year long.

Conferences: Traditional Connections to Parents and Other Stakeholders

There are also more traditional methods to share the importance of regular attendance with all stakeholders. At the beginning of the school year, teachers can leverage the time during a parent-teacher conference to talk about attendance if there are already signs or a pattern to a student missing school. Mid-year conferences or conference requests can be helpful in making face-to-face connections that 

Teachers can take the opportunity to make suggestions to parents or guardians that older students need routines for homework and sleep. Cell phones, video games and computers should not be part of a bedtime routine. "Too tired to go to school" should not be an excuse.

Teachers and school administrators should also encourage families to avoid extended vacations during the school year, and to try to line up vacations with the school’s schedule of days off or holidays.

Finally, teachers and school administrators  should remind parents and guardians the academic importance of planning doctor and dentist appointments during after school hours.

Announcements regarding a school's attendance policy should be made at the beginning of the school year, and repeated regularly throughout the school year. 

Newsletters, Flyers, Posters and Websites

The school website should promote daily attendance. Updates on daily school attendance should be displayed on the home pages of every school. The high visibility of this information will help to reinfrce the importance of school attendance.

Information about the negative impact of absenteeism and the positive role daily attendance has on academic achievement can be placed in newsletters, on posters and circulated on flyers. Placement of these flyers and posters are not limited to the school property. Chronic absenteeism is a community problem, particularly at the upper grade levels, as well.

A coordinated effort to share information about academic damage caused by chronic absenteeism should be shared throughout the local community. Business and political leaders in the community should receive regular updates on how well students are meeting the goal of improving daily attendance.

Additional information should feature the importance of attending school as a student's most important job. Anecdotal information such as the facts listedon this flyer for high school parentsor listed below can be promoted in schools and throughout the community:

  • Missing one or two days a month can add up to nearly 10 percent of the school year. 
  • Students who attend school set up the routines for future employment and showing up for for work on time every day.
  • Students who attend school regularly are more likely to graduate and find good jobs. High school graduates make, on average, a million dollars more than a dropout over a lifetime.
  • School only gets harder when students stay home.
  •  Too many absent students can affect the whole classroom, creating redundant instruction and slowing down other students.

Conclusion

Students who miss school, whether the absences are sporadic or on consecutive days of school, miss academic time in their classrooms that cannot be made up. While some absences are unavoidable, it is critically important to have students in school for learning. Their academic success depends on daily attendance at every grade level.

NOTE: An infographic with additional statistics to share with students and families with younger students is offered by Attendance Works on this link.

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Bennett, Colette. "Daily School Attendance Matters!" ThoughtCo, Feb. 21, 2017, thoughtco.com/daily-school-attendance-matters-4084888. Bennett, Colette. (2017, February 21). Daily School Attendance Matters! Retrieved from https://www.thoughtco.com/daily-school-attendance-matters-4084888 Bennett, Colette. "Daily School Attendance Matters!" ThoughtCo. https://www.thoughtco.com/daily-school-attendance-matters-4084888 (accessed May 23, 2018).