Attendance is essential to school success, but too often students, parents and schools do not realize how quickly absences — excused and unexcused — can add up to academic trouble. Chronic absence — missing 10 percent of the school year, or just 2-3 days every month—can translate into third-graders unable to master reading, sixth-graders failing courses and ninth- graders dropping out of high school. Low-income students, who most depend on school for opportunities to learn, are especially harmed when they miss too much instruction.
Chronic absenteeism is a widespread concern in the state of West Virginia. To date, the current chronic absence rate for WV children pre-k through third grade is 11.80%.
Research proves what we know from common sense: Showing up to class is critical to succeeding in school. What is less understood is the critical importance of looking at chronic absence data starting in elementary school. Far too many cities and schools focus on truancy in high school or, at best, middle school, without looking at how many young children in the early grades are headed off track academically because they are missing too much school due to excused or unexcused absences.
Research also shows that early absences hamper a child’s ability to read and exacerbate achievement gaps, especially for poor children and minorities who typically have higher rates of absenteeism. It is critical that counties look at the right numbers. It requires looking more deeply into attendance patterns that can explain why students are missing so much school. Elementary students, especially in the early grades, are not likely to be skipping school willfully. Instead, many of their absences are excused as they deal with health, safety, transportation and other challenges that keep them from class.
Promoting attendance in the early grades is critical to sustaining the school readiness skills that preschool or Head Start programs can help children to develop. When chronic absence was taken into account, students who arrived at school academically ready to learn— but then missed 10 percent of their kindergarten and first grade years—scored, on average, 60 points below similar students with good attendance on third-grade reading tests. In math, the gap was nearly 100 points.
To decrease the percentage of students who are chronically absent. Chronic absence is defined as missing 10% or more of instructional days.
- We must begin to change the conversation regarding absences from only being concerned with unexcused absences to focusing on instructional time lost
- Promote good school attendance habits in the early grades
- Encourage schools to examine their data to look for attendance trends
- Ensure schools engage in current best practices regarding health concerns
- Visit the Bringing Attendance Home Toolkit to find strategies to reduce chronic absence
- Determine when it is appropriate to send your child to school: How Sick is Too Sick?
- Use the resources to help build good attendance habits
- Utilize resources from the Attendance Toolkit to promote awareness, identify focus areas, and create an attendance plan.
- Conduct a culture and climate survey to ensure the school environment is welcoming; this will help to promote attendance for school staff as well as students.
- Complete the data analysis for chronic absence and identify where and when attendance gaps occur. If your district doesn’t already know, determine the current baseline of chronic absence as well as average daily attendance so you can identify whether your activities have an impact on improving student attendance over the school year. If you haven’t crunched your chronic absence data, you can start by looking at how much average daily attendance improves—though it is important to recognize that average daily attendance might mask high levels of chronic absence.
- Recruit local sports stars and celebrities for school visits and assemblies. Sports stars — whether professional athletes or college standouts – can be great role models for promoting better attendance. Athletes can deliver a powerful message about attendance and persistence. If your community doesn’t have a professional sports team, think about minor league teams or even high school athletes. They can deliver the message:
- Success takes hard work. Players show up for practice every day to be the best they can be. Students need to show up for school every day.
- It’s tempting to take a day off here or there, but the best players know that persistence is key to performance.
- Work with local health care providers to get information to parents on when they should keep their child home or send them to school (i.e. Fever versus runny nose and/or cough)
- Enlist elected officials to be involved in raising awareness. Mayors and elected leaders are especially well-positioned to advance a chronic absence agenda because they can rally support around a common concern. In addition, city governments are typically deeply involved in an array of supports and services such as public safety, early childhood programs and community health clinics that can address issues that often pose significant barriers to school attendance. You can use these presentations developed at Attendance Works to get your policy makers involved.
- Recruit local faith leaders to speak to congregations about attendance and to encourage members to become involved with mentoring programs at the schools.
- Get local businesses involved. Use this sheet to help you get started.
- Line up incentives from businesses and other partners for contest.
- Horace Mann Insurance agencies provide incentives for attendance.
- Ask local restaurants to provide dinner to reward families with the most improved attendance.