To better understand why some students are chronically absent, school leaders need to look beyond just the number of days students are missing, John Rice, the deputy director of San Francisco-based research center WestEd's Regional Educational Laboratory West, explains in an article for R&D Alert.
Examining absenteeism data in greater detail — by grade level, teacher, subject area and student demographics, for example — can help educators better identify the issues contributing to students missing school or a particular class, helping them to craft specific solutions.
The Tulare City School District in California, for example, started a handwashing effort among young children and integrated the topic of proper handwashing into the curriculum to see if the practice can prevent the spread of illness among students and reduce absenteeism.
Under the Every Student Succeeds Act, all states are responsible for tracking chronic absenteeism, and most are using the data for accountability purposes. But the issues that contribute to students being absent — and sometimes the solutions — are almost as unique as each individual school. For example, some schools have installed laundry facilities for students who were missing school because they didn’t have clean clothes to wear.
“Sometimes digging into the roots of absenteeism can take educators in unexpected directions,” the R&D Alert article says.
In another example mentioned, middle school boys in the Parlier Unified School District, in California’s Central Valley, were missing school because they didn’t think their haircuts were cool enough — so a local barber offered to give the students a great hairstyle, and a local foundation is covering the cost for those who can’t afford it.
Among other recommendations are contacting parents as soon as a student is absent and meeting personally with parents if the absences start to pile up. And more personalized learning strategies, tutoring and after-school enrichment can address absenteeism due to students falling behind academically.