Student Success Starts with Regular Attendance
● By Sandy Kauten
Why Attendance Matters
Missed days can be particularly destructive in the early years, when students are learning the fundamentals that will help them read at grade level by third grade. This achievement is more than an arbitrary measure; it’s at third grade that students begin to rely on books and other written curriculum. If they’re not reading at grade level by that point, school becomes much more difficult and the likelihood of academic challenges spikes.
One in six Oregon children is chronically absent, one of the highest absenteeism rates in the nation. Those who are chronically absent are less likely to graduate on time. Statistically, students are considered chronically absent if they miss 10 percent of the school year – typically that’s 18 days of school, or just two school days a month. It doesn’t matter whether absences are excused or unexcused because missed days translate to missed instruction regardless of reason.
Identifying and supporting students who are regularly missing school is likely to help address other challenges as well. That’s because chronic absenteeism can be an indicator of a larger issue such as housing instability, bullying or emotional challenges, physical concerns, or difficulty with transportation. Identifying the reason behind the missed days and helping connect parents with resources will undoubtedly spill over to positive changes beyond attendance.
Chronic absenteeism isn’t about ‘skipping school’ or the occasional sick day. There are many root causes, including physical and behavioral health issues, school climate, and housing and food insecurity.
Children living in poverty are two to three times more likely to be chronically absent, and students from communities of color and students with disabilities are also disproportionately affected. The equity gap has elevated the state’s concern about chronic absenteeism because some of the students who have the most to gain from school are missing more school than their peers.
To reverse the pattern, Oregon Department of Education (ODE) and the Oregon legislature have made improving attendance a high priority, knowing that helping to identify and solve a student's root causes for regularly missing school is key to Oregon's larger effort to improve high school graduation. Simply raising awareness about the impact of missed days on a student’s future is part of the state’s plan, and it will launch an “Every Day Matters” public awareness campaign this fall.
Locally, Lane Education Service District and the county’s school districts are working to increase attendance through a combination of efforts. These include improving attendance data analysis so schools can identify students who are at risk of, or already chronically absent. From there, schools will work with students to develop attendance improvement plans. Each district is approaching the challenge differently in order to reflect localized issues. For example, transportation is a more significant challenge in rural areas than urban, as are health care issues.
How to Help
Because of the many practical issues that contribute to chronic absenteeism, schools are looking to their communities, non-profits, local government and families for help as they develop solutions for each child. These might include easier fixes such as carpooling, or more difficult challenges such as helping connect families with housing. More information will be available from ODE and directly from schools this fall. In the meantime, consider the following suggestions:
Plan Ahead: Things don’t always go smoothly. Planning ahead can help you be ready for issues with:
- Transportation (Explore carpool, bus, safe walk/bike options.)
- After school pick-up and care (Have a back-up!)
Ask for Help: These are common reasons students miss school. Visit 211info.org to learn about local community resources or ask your school for suggestions.
- Health issues
- Acute or chronic illness
- Mental health services
- Social emotional supports
- Behavioral support
- Oral (mouth and teeth) health
Build Relationships: Students do best in a warm, safe and welcoming environment. Schools and families can help with this by:
- Ensuring every student is connected with an adult within his or her school who can watch for issues and help with solutions.
- Building relationships with classmates and peers.
- Planning for success by having attendance goals and addressing possible obstacles in advance.
Use Life Hacks: Work on household routines to make it easier to get out the door.
routines – Set out clothes and make lunches, put keys and bags by the door. Put
permission slips, homework in backpacks, etc.
- Homework help – Ask friends, neighbors and older kids for help with homework
- Getting ready – Easier mornings make it easier to get out of bed and into class
As always, feel free to ask your school for help. Together we can significantly improve school attendance – and our students’ futures.