Education

Why attendance matters: When kids miss school, their learning suffers | Opinion

Educators and parents alike agree: Keeping kids in school matters. When kids miss school, their learning suffers.

Research shows that missing too many days of class leads to lower test scores and lower grades. If it continues through middle school, it’s likely the student won’t last through high school.

By the time freshman year rolls around, it becomes a better dropout indicator than test scores.

What is chronic absenteeism? The tipping point for chronic absenteeism seems to be missing 10 percent of the school year, or about 18 days — excused or unexcused. That may sound like a lot, but it can be as little as two days a month, and that can add up quickly.

Chronic absence is a pervasive challenge affecting the entire nation. Nationwide, 16 percent of all students — or one out of seven — is chronically absent. In Florida, 18.1 percent of students in the 2015-16 school year missed so many days they were chronically absent.

How can we fix this problem? Today, the federal Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) requires all states to report on chronic absence. Almost one-third of states adopted a chronic absence metric in their state plans. We see an opportunity for schools and districts to use this metric to avoid laying blame on families or students, and encouraging active problem solving that focuses on removing barriers to being in class.

Hedy Chang Attendance Works Ex Dir 2019.jpg
Hedy N. Chang is the executive director of Attendance Works, a national non-profit initiative dedicated to improving educational equity and student achievement by reducing chronic absence.

A promising example of this is happening in Manatee County. The School Board of Manatee County’s Graduation Enhancement Technician program provides Title 1 schools with a valuable tool in addressing chronic absenteeism. The Graduation technicians serve as the main point of contact for families with students struggling with poor attendance and partner with them to find solutions. Manatee is now examining how their work can be further enhanced and supported by a team, led by the principal, that ensures attention to attendance is integrated to their overall approach to school improvement.

One pitfall is to look at chronic absence as a compliance issue. Instead, educators and families can look at the academic consequences of this lost instructional time for all students. Chronic absence recognizes that students miss school for many understandable reasons, such as untreated asthma or lack of access to medical care, homelessness or unreliable transportation. In these types of cases, a punitive response is not appropriate.

That is why we sponsor a national messaging campaign — the Attendance Awareness Campaign — focused on getting out the word that chromic absence is a solvable issue. Schools and districts can move the needle on chronic absence when the entire community focuses data to identify the root causes of chronic absence and joins forces to collaborate on solutions.

With this year’s Attendance Awareness Campaign motto, We Belong in School! we’re calling on everyone — from educators to health professionals to local agency and business partners — to do what they can to help create welcoming and engaging schools that encourage daily attendance. We know that students are more likely to attend school if they feel emotionally and physically safe, are connected to adults in school, and believe they can learn and achieve. Read our Key Messages for the campaign at the website listed below.

Schools and districts shouldn’t think they need to address this problem on their own, especially when chronic absence levels are high. Taking steps to improve attendance begins when everyone in the community recognizes they have a stake and a role. In Charlotte, DeSoto, Manatee and Sarasota counties, the Suncoast Campaign for Grade-Level Reading is working with the school districts, local governments, businesses, nonprofits and community leaders to reduce chronic absenteeism and improve outcomes for the children in the region. This requires careful attention to data and strategic, locally tailored interventions to address attendance challenges as soon as chronic absence emerges as a problem.

Join the Attendance Awareness Campaign today! Together we can nurture a culture of engagement and attendance that encourages showing up every day even when it isn’t easy.

Find out more about the national Attendance Awareness Campaign, and sign up to receive regular updates about what you can do to move the needle on chronic absenteeism: https://awareness.attendanceworks.org/

Hedy N. Chang is the executive director of Attendance Works, a national non-profit initiative dedicated to improving educational equity and student achievement by reducing chronic absence. The website offers strategies, tools, research and blogs about reducing chronic absence. Visit www.attendanceworks.org.

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