Attendance improves when a school community offers a warm and welcoming environment that emphasizes building relationships with families and stresses the importance of going to class every day. The key is developing a school-wide school culture that promotes a sense of safety, respect and personal responsibility, where students feel connected and know that someone notices, in a caring manner, when they missed school. A key component of engagement is helping families understand the value of what their children are learning when they are are in school and the negative effects of chronic absenteeism. Too many parents and students do not realize that just missing two days each month can be a problem, which often leads to falling behind in the classroom. Even fewer families realize that absenteeism is a problem as early as kindergarten and preschool. Parents who foster the habit of attendance in the early grades can increase their children’s chances of graduating.
School communities can send a clear message that going to school every day is a priority by encouraging students and families who have good and improved attendance. Keep in mind that the goal is not to focus on perfect attendance since the children who struggle the most will soon be left out of such activities. Students often respond better to positive recognition and peer/adult relationships than they do to lectures from parents and teachers. Simple rewards—recognition from peers and the school through sending home notes or emails, making personal calls, extra recess time, homework passes or even dancing in the hallways—go a long way toward motivating students.
Ideally every school has a team to monitor their data, use it to organize their attendance improvement strategy and ensure chronically absent students receive support. The best way to identify students with chronic absence, is to use the attendance data already collected by schools. Schools need to identify students whose attendance trends are leading them to be chronically absent. Ideally, data is also used to monitor trends over time by grade and student group. Schools can also use data prior to the beginning of the school year to assess how many students are likely to need additional supports and then determine how to put in place sufficient resources. SOESD has created free data tools – Chronic Absenteeism Prediction Tool (CAPT) to examine patterns and identify which students are at risk due to poor attendance. The best approach is for district data staff to use these tools (or adopt existing data dashboards, ideally the Oregon Data Suite, to produce similar reports) and then provide data on a regular basis to school attendance teams.
Perhaps the most critical strategy is using data to trigger early and caring outreach to families and students who are trending toward missing too many days of school. Such outreach is essential for identifying barriers to attendance — hunger, access to health care, homelessness, transportation or other challenges — and the supports or resources that would help improve attendance. Schools in our area have found success utilizing empathy interviews and listening sessions with students and families to identify barriers preventing regular school attendance. This information is then used to create a more welcoming environment for all students in our schools.
Large numbers of students are affected by chronic absence, that suggests systemic barriers are at play. Since chronic absence is a problem in schools, using qualitative and quantitative information to inform which drivers are creating absenteeism is key to creating systemic change both within our schools and communities. Ensure district and school policies are informed by student and parent voice, newly identified promising practices and research. If possible, engage other agencies and families in this change process so they can use their insights to shed light on the challenges faced by our students and families. Engage community partners in coming up with realistic solutions that draw upon the assets they can bring to bear. Shining a light on the barriers to attendance can illuminate appropriate solutions, whether that involves establishing clothing closets, food pantries, laundry services, improving access to health care, launching community ride shares, providing tutoring, offering mentoring, developing morning or after-school care, or other informed practices.
Strategies For School Sites
Every day a student is absent is a lost opportunity for learning. Too many absences not only can affect achievement for the absent student but also can disrupt learning for the entire class. We suggest five basic steps to address and reduce chronic absence in schools. We’ve developed resources to help implement each strategy.