Tomorrow, September 20th, is “High Attendance Day” for all public schools in Kentucky. Districts and schools have been building up to this day by finding ways to award the schools who record the highest percentage of enrolled students coming to school that day.

We know that showing up to school is important for every child. It’s so important that for at least two decades, state accountability indexes have included school and district Average Daily Attendance (ADA) rates. Average Daily Attendance is how many enrolled students show up to school all day, every day compared to the total number who SHOULD be in school. It’s so important that students are given ‘perfect attendance’ awards, schools with the highest percentages in the district get to shine banners in their lobbies, and districts with the highest percentages are recognized at the state level.

It’s extremely rare, if not unheard of, for a school to hit 100 percent attendance every day. While an ADA of 95 percent is common and may seem like a success, it can mask a small percentage of students who are NOT coming to school consistently and regularly. Chronic absenteeism is when a student misses school for ANY reason at least 10 percent of the school year. In Kentucky, that’s equivalent to missing 18 or more days in the required 175 days of school.

Chronic absenteeism is critical to track and address because when a student misses 10 percent or more of school days for any reason, she/he is at a much greater risk of being unable to master reading, failing subjects, and dropping out of high school. And for that to happen to even one student in Kentucky is unacceptable.

Attendance Works recently released a new report comparing levels of chronic absenteeism within each state from SY 2013-14 to SY 2015-16. The Kentucky data reveal much room for improvement. In Kentucky, only 5 percent of schools had zero chronically absent students for both timeframes. While the percent of schools experiencing low (less than 5 percent of students) and modest (5 – 9.9 percent of students) chronic absence fell, the percent of schools experiencing higher levels of chronic absence rose (see chart). You can explore chronic absence data for your state, school district, and specific school for various student and school characteristics on the interactive map they’ve made available as well.

On a positive note, with the Every Student Succeeds Act plan, Kentucky has chosen to specifically track and monitor chronic absenteeism within their accountability system, in addition to the average daily attendance rates. Districts across the state have begun implementing school and community-based programs to both identify and support the families and children who may need extra assistance getting to school more regularly.  Attendance Works has four suggestions for schools and districts:

1) Engage families – partnering families with someone in the community who can help them with transportation to school or for health care appointments is one example.

2) Fix transportation – thinking outside of the box when transportation is a very real barrier in a child’s ability to get to school.  For example, connecting families to a carpool or another parent who is able to pick them up from a designated spot.

3) Address health needs – prioritizing collaborations with local health departments or other groups to bring school nurses within the school setting.  Schools that have school nurses have shown marked decreases in absences.

4) Track the right data – looking at students with ANY absences (not just unexcused) is important to determine chronic absentees – as every day without critical learning opportunities can put them further behind.

Please note that none of the above suggestions are punitive in nature to either the student or the family. Students need to be in school, not subjected to consequences that push them farther away from those important and daily learning opportunities and experiences.

So, let’s work together to make sure all our students are at school tomorrow – September 20th – but also September 21st and 22nd and every day thereafter.