Tips From the Nation’s Three Biggest School Districts on How to Reduce Absenteeism

Attending school regularly is the foundation for success in education. When schools transitioned to virtual or hybrid options during the COVID-19 pandemic, many districts saw a steep decrease in attendance. It's a battle that administrators continue to face as schools transition back to in-person classes.

Negative Impacts of Absenteeism

When students aren’t at school, all aspects of their lives are affected. They miss out on classroom instruction, and test scores go down. When students feel less than adequate, they have lower self-esteem and risk poor mental health.

Excessive absences affect the social learning aspect of education. Students may not understand classroom etiquette and struggle to read the social cues of their peers. These early setbacks have lifelong impacts on student success.

Thirty-six states and the District of Columbia adopted an absenteeism standard to help identify students who miss school excessively. These states define chronic absenteeism as missing 10% of school days over a school year. Across the nation, one in seven students is chronically absent from school.

Understanding Reasons Behind Absenteeism

Assessing absenteeism can be overwhelming. It may seem impossible to solve as each student faces different hurdles in life that contribute to absenteeism. Our nation’s three largest school districts narrow down the problem to a few key factors:

  • Socio-economic status – Students in poverty are more likely to miss school
  • Bullying and school culture – Students may not feel safe or happy at school
  • Parents’ awareness – Parents may not understand the impacts of absenteeism or even know their student is missing school.

New York City School District Success Story

Proactivity was the primary goal of New York City’s plan to address absenteeism. The program included four steps that established a cycle of improvement.

  1. Identify students who are chronically absent from school.
  2. Predict who will be chronically absent before it happens.
  3. Actively monitor progress and address concerns immediately as they arise.
  4. Share data with all levels in the school district, from administration to parents.

School district officials engaged resources from across the community, including partner agencies and community organizations. Community leaders from all walks of life came together to review the data and identify areas for improvement. Together stakeholders collaborated to make changes – even changing local legislation to support schools’ efforts.

One of the turning points was an example given by the assistant superintendent. He explained that missing 30 days of school per year for six years equates to missing an entire year of education. This comparison opened many parents’ eyes to the long-term impact of absenteeism.

Can we expect students’ high performance if they miss a sixth of the school year? Today, chronic absenteeism in New York City is down to 2.3%, with 43.7% of students completing total attendance.

How many of your students are at risk?

Los Angeles School District Success Story

Los Angeles administrators implemented a similar strategy, partnering with community leaders to address the problem of absenteeism. Additionally, they placed even more emphasis on parental involvement.

A staff member from the school called parents directly on the day of an absence. This increased engagement and helped to earn parents’ trust. Los Angeles schools prioritized knowing about students’ personal lives through these phone calls.

If there were gaps at home, the entire school staff knew about collaborating to lift the student. Did parents need help paying bills? Were chronic medical conditions or homelessness contributing to absenteeism? 

By answering these questions, the school district staff provided support in filling those gaps through financial and health-related resources. Parents felt supported and engaged with their student’s education.

The administration at the Los Angeles school district also identified that teachers needed to focus on education. Counselors, social workers, and mental health professionals focused on identifying students’ needs so that teachers could be more effective in the classroom. Today, chronic absenteeism in New York City is down to 1.7%, with 51.1% of students completing total attendance.

Chicago School District Success Story

School district staff in Chicago also took an interest in parents. Each school website had parent resources displayed prominently on the homepage. Communication with parents encouraged them to visit the school’s website so they could access the free resources.

Chicago has a team of education professionals dedicated solely to reducing absenteeism. This support team meets twice a week to review data and talk about how they can continue down the path to improvement. They know that as the times change, so much their absenteeism strategies.

The team set a specific goal to reach 95% attendance across all schools in the district.

Today, chronic absenteeism in Chicago is down to 1.3%, with 48.3% of students completing total attendance.

Rewarding Attendance

They taught students the value of attending school consistently and then implemented positive reinforcement strategies. All three districts found success in rewarding students who attended school regularly. Examples of rewards include:

  • Free meals around town with participating restaurants
  • Passes to move to the front of the line at lunchtime
  • Coupons to skip wearing uniforms for a single day
  • Recognition at school events
  • Printed certificates
  • Credits with the school store
  • VIP passes to special school events like sports games and dances
  • Breakfast and snack events with a parent or guardian
Reduce Absenteeism and Keep Your Students Safe

Key Takeaways

Absenteeism is a big problem – so significant that it may seem impossible to address. School district administration can tackle the problem of absenteeism one student and one family at a time.

The benefits of students attending school aren’t limited to students themselves. Teachers, administration, and even parents reap the benefits of regular school attendance.


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