There is a long list of exciting and effective tools designed to stimulate and improve student learning being employed in our public schools. But there is a monster at the door of the schoolhouse that is depriving too many of our students of the benefits of these supportive and stimulating resources.
That monster is chronic absenteeism and truancy. The sad reality is that too many students do not spend enough of the scheduled school year in the school environment to take full advantage of the unprecedented opportunities offered there.
Research shows lower performance among students with higher absenteeism “at every age, in every subject, in every racial and ethnic group and in every state and city examined.” “In many cases, the students with more absences have skill levels one to two years below their peers. While students from low-income families are more likely to be chronically absent, the ill effects of missing too much school hold true for all socio-economic groups.” (Attendance Works, a national and state research and activism center for school attendance founded by researcher Hedy N.Chang)
While most business in the U.S. report absence rates of 3 percent or less for successful employees, 10-15 percent of U.S. students are chronically absent, which is defined as missing 10 percent of scheduled school days!
If it is a goal of schools to help build a productive national workforce, we are teaching a dangerous lesson when such high absenteeism is tolerated. Absenteeism, like all behaviors, becomes harder to extinguish the more established the pattern becomes. Damaging attendance patterns need to be identified early in the school career and early in the school year if corrective teaching is to be productive.
The most effective absence interventions start early, occur often, focus on the positive, are varied in nature, and involve a multi-disciplinary team.
Building a Relationship
Like all learning, productive attendance habits are most effectively taught when the teachers have a relationship with the learner. It is critical for school staff members to build productive relationships with students and families if excessive absenteeism is to be corrected.
Attendance Improvement Plan
Probably the most efficacious tool in resolving attendance issues is the attendance improvement plan, a document following a local team designed template, signed by all parties (including the parent(s) and student), containing measurable goals, and a calendar of review and feedback.
Don’t forget the positive reinforcement. “Some programs also seek to promote a pro-attendance culture in the school by, for example, rewarding students for consistent attendance.” (Safe Schools Healthy Schools, 2012)
Make this the year that your primary goal is to slay the monster at the schoolhouse door. Then all of our other tools will be able to accomplish what they were designed to do.
If you would like to learn more about how to prevent truancy in your school, contact Mark Larson, Kent ISD’s Truancy and Attendance Coordinator.
This blog post was written by Mark Larson, Truancy and Attendance Coordinator for Kent ISD and edited by Amanda Walma, PD Coordinator for Kent ISD.