Efforts Underway to Combat Chronic Absenteeism

September 21, 2016 08:30 AM

The District is committed to ensuring that every student attends school regularly. Showing up for school has a huge impact on a student’s academic success starting in kindergarten and continuing through high school.

Research shows:   

  • As many as 7.5 million students are chronically absent nationwide. This includes one in 10 kindergarteners.
  • Children chronically absent in kindergarten and 1st grade are much less likely to read at grade level by the end of 3rd grade.
  • By 6th grade, chronic absence is a proven early warning sign for students at risk for dropping out of school.
  • By 9th grade good attendance can predict graduation rates even better than 8th grade test scores.

“We realize some absences are unavoidable due to health problems or other circumstances,” explained Paul Hayes, Director of Learning Supports. “But, we also know that when students miss too much school— regardless of the reason – it can cause them to fall behind academically. A student is less likely to succeed if he or she is chronically absent—which means missing 18 or more days over the course of an entire school year. Absences can add up quickly.  A child is considered to be chronically absent if he or she misses just two days every month."

To help address the issue, the District partnered with the Reading Into Success initiative to bring a pilot program during the 2015-16 school year to Wright Elementary School. In addition to adding a Student Support Liaison to the school staff, Wright held an Attendance Awareness Month campaign which included attendance pledges for parents, information regarding when to keep students home, and posters displayed throughout the school communicating the importance of everyday attendance.

The Wright Student Support Liaison and School Counselor also contacted parents by phone, letter and in person in an effort to work together to create an attendance plan. At midyear conferences, parents whose children were on track to be chronically absent received a graph comparing their student’s attendance with the rest of their class. Used as an education tool, this graph opened the door to conversations regarding the impact absence can have on achievement.

Results of the pilot effort showed promise! During the 2014–15 school year, 12.8% of students at Wright Elementary were chronically absent. This dropped to 5.6% in the 2015–16 school year. The District is now sharing these strategies with its other 30 schools to help them have a positive impact on attendance, too.
CalltoActionSuperintendent Dr. Brad Buck has joined with school superintendent’s nationwide in focusing attention on this issue through Attendance Works, a national and state initiative promoting better practice around school attendance:

Buck also attended the “Every Student, Every Day” National Conference, reviewing related data and learning more about strategies in place in other school districts across the country.
“Chronic absenteeism is clearly a local priority and a national priority,” Buck explained. “My understanding is that efforts addressing this will be supported by both the Iowa Department of Education and the U.S. Department of Education going forward. The issue may also become a part of the attendance center ranking work that is underway in Iowa and required of all states under the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA).”

Below are a few practical tips for families to help support regular school attendance:

  • Make sure children keep a regular bedtime and establish a morning routine.
  • Lay out clothes and pack backpacks the night before.
  • Ensure children go to school every day unless they are truly sick
  • Avoid scheduling vacations or doctor’s appointments when school is in session.
  • Talk to teachers and counselors for advice if your child(ren) feel anxious about going to school.
  • Develop back up plans for getting to school if something comes up.  Call on a family member, neighbor, or another parent to take your child to school.

The District wants to support families so that students show up for school on time every day.  Parents with questions should always contact their child’s school.

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