Valerie L. Marsh, an assistant professor at the University of Rochester’s Warner School of Education, and Rochester East Upper School and East Lower School Superintendent for Educational Partnership Organizations Shaun Nelms write for District Administration on the lessons learned from a recent partnership focused on stemming chronic absenteeism in urban schools.
Through the partnership, Warner School compared high schools with similar demographics but high attendance rates, finding that the schools with better attendance had engaging environments, including “fist bumps” and “hellos”; maintained personal contact with families, including providing interpreters for non-English speaking families; and analyzed data that traces students as they enter the school, utilized attendance apps, and conducted hall sweeps to make sure all students are where they are supposed to be in the building.
Once these lessons were applied, East Upper’s attendance went from 77% to 82%, while East Lower’s average attendance rate rose to 90%.
Absenteeism is a significant issue in the United States, A U.S. Department of Education report cited by District Administration states 6 million students miss at least 15 days of school per year. And students of color and those living in poverty are often overrepresented in absenteeism data.
High school students must attend school to be successful and ultimately graduate. Though some students just don’t want to go to class, others experience difficulty in their lives outside of the classroom. Gang violence, incarcerated parents and the need for some students to work may be affecting attendance.
When attendance becomes an issue for a student, some administrators will perform a home visit. Often, barriers such as lack of transportation are the problem, and a family may simply need financial assistance to get their child to and from school.
The Every Student Succeeds Act of 2015 has prompted 70% of states to use “chronic absenteeism” metrics in federally mandated accountability plans. Some districts are now intervening, for example, if a student misses three days of school, or immediately if there is a prior chronic absenteeism problem.
The issue is important. Absenteeism is linked to lower levels of literacy. And chronic absenteeism by 6th grade indicates a student may eventually drop out of school. When students improve their attendance rates, they improve their academic prospects for graduating.