Various factors may contribute to the dilemma, which makes it challenging to improve. The time has come to face the problem head-on and find relevant solutions.
Student attendance is vital for learning to occur, whether in physical seats or online classrooms. However, according to NEA, up to 7.5 million students are counted absent for 18 or more days each school year, making it clear that chronic absenteeism is becoming a problem. The youngest and oldest students tend to lead the pack with missed days, with seniors in high school having the highest rate of all students.
The biggest problems come when those missed days of academics eventually lead to students falling behind on benchmarks such as grade-level reading. Schools throughout the country have long held 3rd grade as the standard benchmark to determine whether or not a student will graduate high school in the future. When chronic absenteeism is an underlying factor, this missed benchmark can be frustrating and worrisome for all stakeholders.
Chronic absenteeism affects more than just academics. Schools with high percentages of absent students face penalties that can lead to budget changes and loss of funding. Students missing excessive days may also miss the nutritional benefits that schools can provide. For many students, these meals are the most well-rounded sources of food that they will receive. Another concern is the increased risk of self-destructive behavior with chronic absences, especially with high school students. Over time, missing school can have a devastating effect on more than just academics.
While it is clear that chronic absence has escalated recently, some of the causes have changed. Getting to the root of these issues challenges school officials yearly, with some factors remaining seemingly out of the school’s control. Truancy laws are aimed primarily at older students, but young students miss almost as many days during the school year. Identifying the underlying reasons may be the key to determining how best to solve the problem.
Living in an area of high poverty rates increases the likelihood that a student will miss excessive days of school. This is the case both in rural and urban areas. Health issues related to poverty such as asthma, obesity, and mental health problems keep many students from their classes each year.
Lack of transportation is also an issue facing students living in poverty-stricken areas. There are times that these students just cannot get to school since their families don’t have reliable transportation. Concerns regarding the safety of school or public transit also come into play here.
Another issue disproportionately affecting students living in poverty is out-of-school suspensions. According to the Journal of Applied Research on Children, “The exclusion of students from school for disciplinary reasons are directly related to lower attendance rates, increased course failures, and can set a student on a path of disengagement from school that will keep them from receiving a high school diploma and further affect their chances of enrolling in post-secondary schooling and realizing many life-long career opportunities.” These issues concerning students in vulnerable situations need to be dealt with on a primary level to solve absenteeism in schools.
Feeling safe in schools is another factor in the rise in absenteeism. Students who are bullied on the way to school or within the school itself often struggle with attendance. Victimized students may avoid school to prevent in-person bullying from happening. With many schools working to serve students with counselors qualified to help with these situations, support is often difficult to find.
Anxiety plays a big part in chronic absenteeism as students face mounting pressure. High expectations from parents or comparison to peers can lead to avoidance. Students who often switch schools or are placed in an academically inappropriate grade may experience increased anxiety as they worry about how they will fit in.
One of the most frustrating reasons for chronic absenteeism is a lack of parent support for regular attendance. Sometimes, parents may not realize how many days their child is missing until the problem becomes evident through failing grades or letters from school. The days missed here and there when siblings are sick, or lack of motivation prevents students from getting to the bus on time can add up.
Other cases involve situations where siblings are caring for younger children in the home and miss school. Parental drug or alcohol abuse may also be a factor in absenteeism. Families dealing with grief or divorce can also struggle with reasonable attendance rates. Students in these situations may not have support to be successful in school, which should lead us to believe that addressing these problems first could improve attendance.
Schools assume most of the burden when students are chronically absent as they help students “catch up” with missed work. This can be a daunting task as classroom instruction is not easily replaceable. Children who are chronically absent in kindergarten and first grade are less likely to read on grade level by the third grade. For older students, missed days can lead to low test scores, failing grades and can eventually lead to higher dropout rates. These failings have far-reaching implications for schools. Low levels of attendance can decrease funding and resources for students that need it most. In some cases, staffing and course availability can even be affected.
For parents, the effects of chronic absenteeism hit closer to home. Students who chronically miss school in the younger grades tend to continue to skip school as they continue into high school. This trend can be a predictor of students who will eventually drop out of school. What’s more, students who are already struggling due to socio-economic factors, disabilities, or those involved in the juvenile justice system will have much more to lose, even missing minimal school days. Parents may be left dealing with truancy fines due to excessive violations. They may also struggle to handle a child turning to drugs or alcohol, diminished mental and emotional health, self-harm, or possible entanglement in the criminal justice system.
The statistics regarding prospects for chronically absent students are alarming and demand viable solutions. Programs designed to keep all stakeholders notified and working together will be the best bet for successful results. Digital programs that make tracking absences simple for school staff will also ease the burden that schools carry in reversing the absence trend.
The new Attendance & At-Risk Program by TrueCare checks many boxes to assess and prevent chronic absences. This digital platform helps school administrators keep track of attendance and allows communication with parents, which is crucial in evaluating risks associated with the child’s overall health, safety, and potential for self-harm and suicide. This communication can help parents keep track of missed days and help administrators support parents in the best way possible. This program simplifies how parents can notify the school of their child’s absences and analyzes attendance data in real-time while connecting with other systems. This reporting can help teachers and school counselors identify and aid at-risk students before serious problems arise.
Parents are responsible for holding themselves and their children accountable for missed school days, especially in the younger grades. There are positive ways to encourage children to attend school regularly, including:
Schools can address the problem in several ways. One of the best ways to respond to the absence problem is to track it using a program like the Attendance & At-Risk Program by TrueCare. Collecting data and communicating with stakeholders helps parents and school administrators with finding solutions to the problem. Schools can take some responsibility internally as well. Engaged, safe, happy students who feel like their teachers and staff care about them are more likely to stay in school. Teaching is challenging, especially with academic environments constantly changing, but relationships do make a difference. Having someone to talk to, whether a teacher, counselor, or another staff member, can make a big difference to a struggling child who feels unsafe. Maintaining a bullying-free school environment can also go a long way in preventing chronic absenteeism.
The problem of chronic absenteeism is multifaceted, and therefore, needs support from all stakeholders. Parents, community leaders, and school administrators need to work as a team to solve problems that cause students to miss school. Utilizing programs to simplify the process and identifying when and why students are missing class can help bring stakeholders closer to a solution.
TrueCare™ is a nationwide Health & Wellness platform for families and businesses providing end-to-end solutions for COVID-19 testing, screening, vaccination, home care, and corporate well-being services.