Skipping school may not sound like a serious issue, but chronic absenteeism is. The United States federal government defines chronic absenteeism as missing at least 15 school days a year, excused or unexcused. This definition also includes absences caused by suspensions. Many states draw the line at missing ten percent or more of any given school year.
Whilst 15 days may not sound like a long time, what is concerning is that the Department of Education has found one in every six students (or approximately 16 percent) miss enough school to be considered chronically absent. In high schools that number rises to one in five students.
800 school districts even reported that more than three in ten of their students missed at least three weeks of school every year.
Constantly missing school has detrimental effects on children and young adults that stretch far beyond their school years.
Academic achievement matters long before students write college applications. Missing school during preschool and Kindergarten years has been shown to lead to reading difficulties. Those students who missed large parts of their first school years struggled to read proficiently by third grade.
The DoE found that missing school regularly is a good predictor of dropout rates. By sixth grade, absenteeism becomes a primary risk factor for leaving high school before graduation. Absenteeism ranked even higher than low test scores when it came to predicting high school dropouts.
Chronically missing school has negative consequences long after high school. Health concerns, living in poverty, and becoming involved in the criminal justice system have all been shown to be connected to absenteeism.
What’s more, the lifelong consequences of chronic absenteeism hit vulnerable students harder than their peers. Those from low-income families, students with disabilities, and homeless students were more likely to miss school than their peers.
Chronic absenteeism has also been connected to suicidal ideation and self-harm.
September is the time to act. As the new school year gets underway, many school districts are returning to some kind of normal after months of limited presence time and homeschooling.
School attendance in September is a good predictor of a student’s attendance for the academic year to come.
As a consequence, parents, educators, and school districts must work hard to identify those students most at risk. Knowing these individuals makes it easier to help them.
As much as there is a correlation between poverty and missing school, there are some schools in comparatively poor districts with low absenteeism rates.
Most successful strategies have focused on prevention and support. They have been community efforts, bringing together so-called cross-functional attendance teams. Many teams include school principals, nurses, guidance counselors, parents and their representatives, social workers, and other stakeholders.
The approach recognizes that there are prevention opportunities at many levels. At the same time, by making attendance a team effort, the likelihood of reaching vulnerable students increases.
Monitoring school attendance is the first step in preventing chronic absenteeism. Understanding which students are at risk for missing a huge amount of their education allows parents, teachers, and other stakeholders to come up with strategies to address the issue.
However, most educators and other staff working in schools today are already stretched to their limit. Any successful attendance monitoring solution needs to be convenient and easily fit into their day.
Platforms like Attendance and At-Risk Program make it easy for parents and schools to communicate. Developed by parents for parents, the tool makes it easy for any parent to send a quick message to the school when their son or daughter will be absent. The app collates the data, and school administrators can see in real time which students are at risk of being chronically absent.
They can also see whether the absence is excused, due to suspension, or unexcused. Simply put, it becomes obvious which students are most at risk and may require additional support.
By automating attendance taking like this, school districts can save thousands of dollars in administration costs and divert the attention of their staff where it is more beneficial.
Students, parents, educators, and society have much to gain from fighting chronic absenteeism. Improved attendance automatically leads to better academic prospects and a higher chance of graduating from high school. Especially in low-income school districts, this can make or break a student’s future.
By understanding absenteeism data over a longer term, schools can identify those students who are headed off track early on, allowing them to intervene and create a positive outcome.
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