Get Involved in the Fight Against Chronic Absence

Next month marks the sixth annual Attendance Awareness Month. Sponsored by Attendance Works, an Alliance partner, the national initiative seeks to inspire and engage communities across the country to band together against chronic absence.

The most recent data from U.S. Office of Civil Rights show that 1 in 6 students are chronically absent, meaning they miss 15 or more days of school a year. And when students aren’t in school, they miss out on important developmental and educational opportunities.

Across all levels of education, research shows that consistent absence from school––excused, unexcused, or due to suspensions––has significant negative consequences for academic achievement and likelihood of graduating. Even as early as pre-school, students who don’t attend school miss valuable lessons and fall behind; these achievement gaps begin early and compound as students continue to miss school.

While chronic absence is a serious problem, it’s also a solvable one. This year’s Attendance Awareness Month highlights community engagement, encouraging teachers, health professionals, sports teams, housing authorities, local businesses, and community organizations to partner up and take action.

Although fighting absenteeism looks different across states and districts, here are two crucial points that advocates highlight:

Use Data to Assess the Problem

A targeted and appropriate response to chronic absence depends on figuring out where and why students aren’t attending school. That’s why it’s crucial to understand and apply local data––having an accurate picture enables stakeholders (particularly school leaders) to ask the right questions, design effective, strategic interventions, and shape budget priorities.

In addition to using standard academic metrics like test scores, ESSA requires states to track one non-academic indicator of student performance and school quality. Thirty-six states and Washington, D.C. have submitted plans using chronic absence as this metric. In a brief on ESSA indicators, Attendance Works describes adoption of this metric as an opportunity for districts and schools to “remove attendance barriers, solicit resources, and spread positive messages about the importance of daily attendance.”

Learn more about effective use of data or try out this set of tools from Attendance Works designed for schools and districts to track chronic absences.

Build Partnerships Across the Larger Community

With this year’s focus on community engagement, Attendance Awareness Month aims to energize a variety of stakeholders beyond just families and schools: afterschool and early education providers, local transportation authorities, businesses and chambers of commerce, healthcare providers, policy makers, local sports teams, to name a few.

“Our shared goal is to help children thrive,” said Dr. Mandy Allison, a professor and pediatrician at UC Denver, in a recent webinar hosted by Attendance Works, discussing the relationship between chronic absence and health care.

“School attendance and school performance are really key markers for how children are developing and key markers of wellbeing. So for me as a pediatrician, asking about absenteeism can give me a clue about if I need to focus on something in particular for that kid.”

Other actionable ideas for healthcare providers include partnering with schools and early childhood programs to identify barriers to attendance, help students and families access health care, and teach parents when a child is too sick to attend school.

More broadly, community partnerships can address a variety of challenges that prevent young people from attending school. For example, districts can work with local public transportation to ensure students have safe and reliable ways to get to school, or even implement a walking school bus model.

Local businesses can work with schools to provide incentives for improved student attendance such as gift certificates, school supplies, or snacks. Local faith-based organizations can facilitate mentorship programs to encourage a school-going culture.

Attendance Works also offers in-depth resource lists for parents and families, businesses, local city and county officials, faith based groups, housing authorities, and other community stakeholders on their website.

Want to get more involved and combat chronic absence? Here are some additional resources to help you get involved with September’s Attendance Awareness Month: