Attendance Awareness Month: The Consequences of Chronic Absenteeism

Attendance AwarenessDo you recall that ever-familiar roll call at the beginning of every day in every class for twelve years or more in school? It was one of those daily rituals that documented our presence each day. There was an obvious understanding that if you didn’t come to school, you missed-out on learning. But in today’s world of tracking data and results, we now know the impacts of school absenteeism are numerous and far-reaching.

September is Attendance Awareness Month – an opportunity for us to learn more about the importance of attending school all day, every day; the consequences of missing school; and how we can help improve school attendance so students stay on track to learn and succeed. September is an important time to focus on school attendance – we want all students to get off to a good start at the beginning of the school year. Also, September absences have been shown to predict chronic absence throughout the school year, even after controlling for student demographic characteristics and students’ attendance the previous school year.

Chronic absenteeism is defined as missing at least ten percent of school days in the school year (including both excused and unexcused absences). In Kentucky, students are required to be in school for 175 days, so a chronically absent student misses about a month, or more, of school. The latest available data from the Kentucky Department of Education shows that during school year 2011-12, 11.9 percent of Kentucky’s public school students were chronically absent. Having more than 1 out of every 10 students missing at least ten percent of their schooling should shock and disturb us all given the consequences of school absenteeism.

A growing body of research suggests that absenteeism is linked to lower academic achievement, especially in the early grades. In fact, one study indicates that even for children who enter kindergarten with strong skills that suggest success in third grade, chronic absenteeism in kindergarten and first grade nearly erases those gains. Frequent absenteeism is also linked to other poor outcomes for students, throughout the grades, and serves as an early warning sign for dropping out of school. A recent report analyzed national testing data and found that students with higher absenteeism rates have lower scores on national standardized tests. The negative effects of missing too much school hold true for all socio-economic groups, but low-income students stand to lose more when they miss school.

Chronic absence is a problem we can solve when the whole community, along with parents and schools, gets involved in improving attendance. We can all make a difference by: helping students and families feel more engaged in learning and their schools; setting expectations that going to school all day, every day matters; identifying students at risk of chronic absenteeism; and helping families overcome barriers to getting to school. Schools can utilize Infinite Campus to track both excused and unexcused absences to identify students at risk of chronic absenteeism. For more information on how you can help make a difference, visit the Attendance Works website.

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