Finding the Cure for Chronic Absenteeism

Connexeo - 07/27/2018

Students can’t learn what is taught in school unless they are in class. And if they don’t learn, they won’t graduate when the time comes. So, it’s obvious that attendance matters.

Poor attendance has “serious implications for later outcomes,” research by the National Center for Education Statistics found. High school dropouts tended to have a history of chronic absenteeism throughout their school career, among many other factors, and the signs have been seen as early as kindergarten and first grade. By ninth grade, the study stated, the pattern was set.

Chronic absenteeism is identified in a ThoughtCo blog as missing two days of school per month – 18 days in an academic year – whether excused or unexcused. A Department of Education (DOE) study found that more than 6.8 million students, or about 14%, miss three or more weeks of school, including 3 million high school students (19%).

That, an Attendance Work report said, “is enough time to erode their achievement and threaten their chance of graduating.”

Teacher absenteeism doesn’t help. The DOE study’s racial breakdown found that while 16% of all African American students are chronically absent, the figure rises to 21% in schools where more than half the teachers are absent for 10 or more days during the year.

Of course, not all absences are recorded by the Ferris Buellers of the world, who fake illness to take a day off. Chronic illnesses and hospitalizations can keep a child out for prolonged periods of time. When this is not the case, schools can help minimize the times in which students “cut” class by executing or encouraging a variety of means to keep their charges engaged and in class.

One way of doing this is for teachers and administrators to show they are passionate about teaching and learning – and about helping students succeed in the subject being taught, an article by the Australian Society for Evidence-Based Teaching stated. Those teachers who were absent for 10 or more days a year, unless they were out for illness, parental leave, jury duty or bereavement, are not demonstrating passion.

The same article also recommended a “tough love” approach. “Every child is capable of academic learning and succeeding at school,” the author wrote. “You need to communicate this belief and then press students to do well.”  And when they do well, reward them.

Another idea is for schools and parents to encourage students to participate in after-school programs. A recent blog post on this site discussed how such programs help reduce the dropout rate, and one factor in that is how after-school activities can affect school attendance.

“The sense of belonging, the connection to caring adults, and the academic enrichment that afterschool provides can make children more likely to go to school,” a paper for The Expanded Learning & Afterschool Project stated. It also makes the case that higher-quality programs – with parent outreach, incentives for students, attendance monitoring and cooperation with schools – help achieve higher school attendance rates than average programs.

Most of these programs target at-risk students and schools and help identify students who might just be starting to show signs of chronic absence.

Finally, some students who are chronically absent may just need a little more sleep. A study by Central Connecticut State University found that high schools that start their academic day at 8:30 a.m. or later achieve improved attendance and graduation rates. “Through this, educators and parents can see how lack of sleep impacts the school indicators that we use to measure student success,” lead author Pamela McKeever told Reuters.

The average graduation rate improved from 79% to 88% in the first two years of later start times, according to the study of 30,000 students in 29 high schools across seven states.

Of course, that assumes the youngsters aren’t using that later start time as an excuse to stay up later.   


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