Chronic student absenteeism continues to be one of the biggest barriers to equal achievement among all student groups. A Johns Hopkins University study found that chronically absent students are 15 percent behind their peers with respect to literacy and 12 percent with respect to math by the end of Grade 1. Later, chronically absent students are less likely to graduate, to attend college . . . the consequences last a lifetime.
District administrators, community leaders, teachers, and parents across the country have long recognized student absenteeism’s damaging implications for student achievement, but recently the issue has become widespread enough to gain priority at the state level. In October, Iowa created a Chronic Absenteeism Advisory Council as part of a statewide initiative to close the skills gap. In California, the state declared a “school attendance crisis” after a Department of Justice report found that 210,000 K-5 grade students missed 10 percent of the school year.
In fact, in June 2016, the U.S. Department of Education found that chronic absenteeism is widespread and prevalent among all student groups, regardless of geography, race and ethnicity, and grade level.
Raising student attendance rates is huge priority for school districts, but it poses a multi-faceted challenge. We’ve found that districts often turn to data to uncover attendance trends and to perception feedback to craft a strategy to reengage this population.
School administrators ask three questions more than any others:
- What can the district do to improve attendance?
- What have other districts done that worked?
- Where should we target our resources?
Research has proven, districts who succeed in addressing these issues:
- Start early – The reasons that many students are chronically absent can be addressed through prevention strategies, especially at the elementary level. Studies suggest that elementary-level interventions are more effective in boosting attendance than those that begin in middle or high school. If you want to target your attention and resources, elementary is the place to start.
- Involve families and the community – Often, student absenteeism has roots in out-of-school factors like poverty, family mobility, child care, and safety concerns. Successful districts engage families and the community with effective communication and support strategies.
- Create mentorship programs – Assigning at-risk students a “monitor” to build trust between students and families, identify barriers to attendance, and check in regularly can greatly improve outcomes. New York City’s “Success Mentors” program found that each participant gained about nine days of school per year and that high school participants were 52 percent more likely to remain in school the following year.
- Use incentives – Incentive programs are often a low-cost, high-impact option for districts, especially in the earlier grades. The most successful programs have a few things in common:
- They avoid recognizing perfection only, and instead reward general punctuality.
- They rely on low-cost incentives, which work just as well as high-cost, monetary incentives. (Think: certificates, extra recess, homework passes, etc.)
- They align the incentives of teachers, students, and parents.
- They are part of a comprehensive approach including family outreach, school-wide culture, and increased student engagement.
- Don’t forget data! – Attendance policy success is often contingent upon collecting and correctly interpreting well-targeted student attendance data. Without a system in place to properly classify, collect, and interpret well-targeted school attendance data, districts struggle to strengthen school-specific problem areas in attendance.
In this report we share how we helped one school district and its administration identify underlying factors that contribute to student absenteeism and incorporate successful strategies that other, peer districts have implemented. Read on for profiles of three districts who have successfully decreased their rates of chronic absence. Download the report now.