Chronic school absenteeism, defined as missing 10% or more of the school year, can profoundly impact a child's academic success. Chronic absenteeism is a primary cause of low academic achievement at every grade level and a strong indicator of which students are at a higher risk of dropping out. Yet, since the onset of the Covid pandemic, more students are having difficulty with regular attendance, making absenteeism a major issue for many school districts.
While chronic absenteeism rates are the highest in high school, the problem occurs at every grade level. In the early grades, chronic absenteeism can delay social and emotional learning. It can also prevent children from reaching key milestones, such as reading at grade level by the end of third grade.
As part of DMGroup's Breakthrough Results program, we have been working with school leaders across the country to address chronic absenteeism and deliver measurable improvements in school attendance for students while strengthening the leadership capacity of teachers and staff.
Below, we share six strategies educators can implement to address chronic absenteeism and ensure that all students have a fair chance of succeeding academically while fostering a positive school experience.
1. Be Clear about Attendance Expectations
One of the best ways to boost school attendance is to ensure that students and their families understand why being on time and in school matters. Alerting families to the importance of attendance has been proven to reduce absenteeism. This can be done by clearly communicating school attendance expectations in the student handbook, website, and face-to-face meetings. If chronic absenteeism is a school -or district-wide issue, set a measurable attendance goal in the school improvement plan and regularly monitor progress toward that goal.
2. Promote a Positive School Culture
School should be a place where students are excited to be. When students feel happy, safe, and connected to their school community, they are much more likely to become engaged and attend school regularly. Besides benefiting the individual student, this happiness and engagement also helps to create a positive school climate that supports learning for all.
On the flip side, some students who feel uncomfortable and unwelcome at school may develop behavioral problems. Many districts invest in training to avoid suspensions—first, because disciplinary absences can lead to a loss of learning time and, second, because harsh discipline can lead to student disengagement. A punitive atmosphere also fails to address the depression, anxiety, or family problems that may be at the root of chronic absenteeism.
A school calendar of interesting and goal-oriented events can help students feel comfortable attending school every day. In addition, Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports, social and emotional learning, and other culture-oriented programs will create a positive school climate where every student feels welcome and connected.
3. Create an Attendance Team
An attendance team is a formal body that meets to discuss attendance and school attendance needs. Attendance teams are usually based in schools, but may also be formed in other organizations that have access to students. Some key roles on an attendance team include a designated chairperson, attendance counselor, social worker, nurse, teacher and others.
The attendance team should monitor attendance daily and communicate with parents and students about any issues. Parents need to be notified of an absence as early in the day as possible, as this can help to prevent the issue from escalating. Furthermore, the team should keep track of each student's progress toward attendance goals and intervene if it appears that a student is at risk of becoming chronically absent.
4. Easily Track and Act on Real-time Data
The school day is a busy time for teachers and school leaders. There are classes to teach, students to monitor, and administrative tasks to complete. In the midst of all this activity, it can be difficult to keep track of attendance, tardies, behavior, and school culture data. Having a single system for tracking all this information can save teachers countless hours. A mobile app or web platform allows all the information to be stored in one central location. This way, teachers and the attendance team can quickly check attendance records and identify patterns and trends that can help reveal the underlying causes of chronic absenteeism.
5. Take Action Early
Monitor students who miss class frequently and create data “triggers” that will signal when a student is at risk of becoming chronically absent. These triggers can be set up to automatically notify school leaders when a student is absent two days in a row or has missed a certain number of days in a specific period. This allows for early intervention, such as a parent meeting or home visit, and the development of an attendance action plan. Using positive communication to emphasize why it is in the child’s best interest to attend school is key to ensuring that the student and parents understand the importance of school attendance and making sure the student does not fall behind.
6. Assist with Additional Support Systems
Schools should be mindful of students who may require additional support.
Designating one person or a team to greet students as they arrive makes it easier for children to seek help if their day starts on a difficult note. The school should also have a response-to-intervention team that can offer targeted solutions for students who struggle with school attendance or have lost classroom instruction due to suspensions.
For disabled or marginalized students, chronic absenteeism can be even more of a problem. These students can be helped by connecting them with a mentor. A mentor can provide regular support, encouragement, and guidance, helping to keep the student on track.
Struggling with School Attendance?
Let DMGroup Help You
Supported by DMGroup, schools can take a proactive approach to dealing with chronic school absenteeism by identifying and addressing it as early as possible, and offering student support systems to make attendance easier. Contact us to discuss how we can help.