Chronic absenteeism has a lasting impact on graduation rates, school funding, career preparedness and life beyond high school. So what can teachers and administrators due to intervene with this complex issue and help students show up for learning?
In part two of our series on chronic student absenteeism, we explore ideas and solutions for reducing this damaging pattern and boosting student and school success.
Strategies to Reduce Absenteeism
It’s clear that chronic absenteeism is a significant barrier to student equality and success. Sarah Favot at education site The 74 points out that this is why many states are including attendance as an accountability measure in the Every Student Succeeds Act, which measures school success according to social and emotional factors beyond test scores.
If all state leaders adopted student attendance as an indicator of school success, it would hold all schools more accountable for tracking and enforcing student attendance. Many education experts feel strongly about this measure, and FutureEd directors Phyllis Jordan and Raegan Miller even lay out a detailed roadmap for following ESSA standards and keeping students on track for success.
One way that teachers can combat absenteeism is by working with organizations focused on keeping kids in schools. For example, the nonprofit Get Schooled works to motivate students to care about their personal learning success. At Get Schooled, students earn points and badges for getting involved in school and also learn about important topics including career exploration, goal setting, student loans and time management. Schools can sign up to engage the entire student body, and create a fun and healthy competition focused on student success.
There are also a number of federal initiatives aimed towards reducing absenteeism in schools. Education writer Michelle Strom points to one plan set in motion by Barack Obama, titled the My Brother’s Keeper Success Mentor Initiative. This evidence-based effort connects school-affiliated adults, such as counselors and mentors, with students who are at risk of becoming chronically absent.
Bullying is common cause of absenteeism, as we explored previously.
The National Association of Elementary School Principals says that learning the core signs of bullying is an important first step towards stopping bullying-related absenteeism. This in turn helps teachers put an end to the behavior which keeps at-risk students safe and in school. Enrolling in bullying educational classes and anti-bullying seminars created for educators can be very helpful.
There are apps and tools available for teachers and staff too. Gaggle, a software company that promotes student safety, provides schools with cyberbullying and self-harm detection. Another resource that helps teachers fight cyberbullying is the Cyberbullying Research Center. This website focuses on identification, prevention and response for educators. It also provides helpful information on the most up-to-date social media apps and online trends, which can allow teachers to tap into hidden instances of online bullying and cruelty.
Because the serious impact of bullying — including chronic absenteeism — tends to manifest in middle and high school, teachers might not think to intervene at early ages. However, knowing how and when to catch bullying signs early on is key to preventing bullying and bullying-related absenteeism later in life.
Attendance Works — the attendance advocacy group mentioned above that improves absence data collection — also has ideas for keeping students motivated to attend school. They cite a Get Schooled survey in which three in five students agree they’d be motivated by rewards and unique experiences.
Over half of these same 1,300 respondents said that they might miss school less if they better understood the link between school attendance and future employment. This indicates that students need to be better informed as to how their attendance at school plays a crucial role in graduation rates, college acceptance and career fulfillment, so they can make attending school a priority.
One idea for how to incentivize attendance at school is to raffle off a prize to seniors with perfect attendance. The Sweetwater Union High School District in San Diego, for instance, has in the past raffled off a refurbished car to one senior who never missed a day that year, podcast producer and KPBS.org journalist Joanne Faryon writes.
Other schools have used visuals, charting how many dollars are lost to those schools with each day a student is absent. By putting this chart on display for students, staff and parents to see, the entire community can better understand the true impact of absenteeism. In one case, a student who missed nearly half the year cost her school $2,464.71.
More ideas for incentivizing perfect attendance are highlighted by investigative reporter Allison Ross, who writes for the Courier Journal. At Valley High School in Kentucky, school administrators have a number of strategies for reducing absenteeism. These include offering dress-down days for students who have high attendance rates, rewarding top attendance students with college field trips, and raffling off tickets for Kentucky Kingdom, a local amusement park, for students with 90 percent or higher attendance records.
Harvard University-based research organization Usable Knowledge adds that parental engagement also plays a role in keeping kids in school. And while teachers might struggle to understand how to engage parents, a study on personalized mailings offers both insight and hope.
This California-based study focused on helping parents understand the serious consequences of absences on student success. Personalized messages included “attendance in early grades affects student learning” and “absences result in missed opportunities that cannot be replaced.” Since just three days a month is classified as chronically absent — and because some parents underestimate the number of school days their child has missed — such messaging helps engage parents in the issue.
If you’re not sure about talking to parents about this subject, keep in mind that most parents trust you to be a messenger about such issues. Cecelia Leong, associate director at Attendance Works, says one parent didn’t realize the impact that missing just a day or two a month of school had on her son’s academics. In a meeting with the teacher, the parent learned that her son was in fact falling behind his classmates. The meeting changed how school attendance was viewed by that household, and they have since made it a priority.
Better Data, Earlier Intervention
Many schools report average overall daily attendance, rather than attendance rates for each student. However, stronger and more detailed data collection is being seen as a key solution to understanding attendance and dropout rates.
Attendance Works recommends that schools keep detailed absence data starting in kindergarten or earlier, in order to improve chronic absence tracking, education expert Colette Bennett at ThoughtCo writes. The non-profit organization also believes it’s important for schools and teachers to partner with families and community members in instances where students are struggling with poor attendance. This early intervention is key to identifying when students are at risk of becoming chronically absent.
The Johns Hopkins School of Education research program Everyone Graduates works to promote post-secondary success, and agrees that more data is needed in order to understand and address absenteeism. They advocate detailed analysis regarding the link between dropout rates and absenteeism, including how graduation rates vary by student characteristics and how far students are from graduation when they drop out. Additionally, understanding the impact of current efforts to increase graduation rates can shed light on which programs work, and where improvement is required.