I’m always amazed at the end of the year to see the recognition of students with perfect attendance. What a great testament to their love of school, not to mention their good health. Every once in a while you find that student that has perfect attendance for multiple years. That likely means no flu, no strep, no significant accidents, good health and some great luck.
We have traditionally monitored attendance in terms of average daily attendance and truancy. Our approach would imply that we are most interested in whether you can document an acceptable reason for the absence, rather than the absence itself. I’m starting to think we need to change our perspective.
The Office of Civil Rights says that any child who misses 15 days or more a year will suffer academically. They call it Chronic Absence and it will be a new data point for reporting in order to qualify for federal dollars in schools. Excused or unexcused doesn’t really matter in this measure. When you are not in school, you are not getting the opportunity to learn and when you miss too much, you fall behind. No make-up work can fill that void.
When I asked for a report on the number of children we have in Calvert County who miss 15 days of school or more each year, I was astonished. I expected Kindergarten and 1st grade to be the worst due to the typical early childhood illness and significant germ sharing. And in some elementary schools that proved true, but not always. Sometimes the 5th grade had the highest percentage of chronic absence.
I found that students in our Title I Elementary Schools, those who qualify for additional help due to a large number of students on Free and Reduced Meals, had almost double the percent of students who were chronically absent than other elementary schools. What is the connection between poverty and attendance? Does that explain the lower achievement?
I found that at almost every middle school, the eighth grade had significantly more chronically absent students than the sixth grade. Why?
At the high school level, guess which grade had the highest percent of chronically absent students? The seniors of course. But is that really OK?
Why does reducing chronic absence matter? *(For research, see: http://www.attendanceworks.org/research/)
- Exposure to language: Starting in Pre-K, attendance equals exposure to language-rich environments especially for low-income children.
- Time on Task in Class: Students only benefit from classroom instruction if they are in class.
- On Track for Success: Chronic absence is a proven early warning sign that a student is behind in reading by 3rd grade, failing courses in middle and high school, and likely to drop-out.
- College and Career Ready: Cultivating the habit of regular attendance helps students develop the persistence needed to show up every day for college and work.
- Engagement: Attendance reflects engagement in learning.
- Effective Practice: Schools, communities and families can reduce chronic absence when they work together.
My advisor in college made it clear and simple saying, “Showing up is half the battle.” I found it to be true. It was practically impossible to fail a class if you were present each day. Our challenge is to implant that value into all of our students.