Reduce chronic absenteeism with identification and prevention
It doesn’t matter how much time you put into planning a well-orchestrated lesson if your students are absent. Students who aren’t present aren’t learning. Their absences can have a significant impact on their future.
Occasional school absences are inevitable. Chronic absences, defined as missing more than fifteen days of school in one school year, are far more serious than one or two missed days. They can and should be prevented.
Students who chronically miss school are in danger of dropping out of school and limiting their potential.
While chronic absenteeism is cause for concern at any grade, it is particularly worrisome for middle school students. That’s because patterns of frequent absences set the stage for high school absenteeism and dropping out of high school. Chronic absences among ninth graders predict the likelihood of dropping out more accurately than student achievement scores.
Chronic absenteeism affects more than secondary level students. It happens in elementary school, too, and it’s just as harmful to student learning.
To break deeply entrenched attendance habits, educators should identify attendance problems and prevent them.
School policies and state reporting requirements can mask attendance issues. Excused absences are documented but not reported, yet they can lead to chronic absenteeism if left unchecked.
Students may be present for an attendance reporting period, but gone the rest of the day, especially if parents schedule doctor and dentist appointments during school hours. Also, students may seek out ways to leave class. They may try to see the counselor or nurse, or they may linger in the restrooms and hallways instead of being in the classroom.
Class avoidance in any form is absenteeism.
To monitor student attendance, make notes about the time students spend away from the classroom, whether excused or unexcused. Look for patterns that might reveal an underlying issue.
Educators must address attendance issues head-on. To reduce or prevent chronic absenteeism, try taking these steps:
- Talk to families. Explain the importance of school attendance. Help parents establish routines that will help them get everyone to school and work on time.
- Find out what the real issue is. Principal Akbar Cook in Newark, New Jersey installed a laundromat in his high school because his students didn’t have clean clothes to wear to school.
- Make school a positive experience and learning fun. Kids who are excited about what they’ll be doing next will make an effort to be in school.
- Establish an attendance team. Team members collect and analyze attendance data with a laser-like focus. They address absences on a daily basis. Next, they call parents with early notifications and taking notes about the conversations for later follow up if necessary.
- Recognize good attendance with celebrations. Show students that you notice when they are present and that their efforts will not go unrecognized. As a bonus, they’ll likely see an improvement in their grades, too. Then you can celebrate those successes.
Experts consistently advise that the best prevention of chronic absenteeism is early identification. You can’t solve a problem unless you know it exists.
By encouraging good attendance, you’re helping your students learn, graduate, and go on to achieve success after high school.