Attendance Counts

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Chronic absence is one of the main reasons children in the primary grades fail to read proficiently. Even the best teachers can’t teach children to read when they aren’t present.

Our knee-jerk reaction may be that it’s the parents’ responsibility to make sure their children attend school regularly. Most young children don’t stay home without a parent’s knowledge. It’s easy, though, to lose sight of all the stress factors associated with poverty—unreliable transportation, unstable housing, hunger, poor health, and maternal deprivation—that low-income families face daily, hindering their children from getting to school.

Too often schools fail to pay attention to important clues. They do record school-wide attendance or truancy rates, but these can mask the number of children missing multiple days of school if all absences are counted, including excused absences. Overlooking this information can cost schools money when state funding is linked to attendance.

The good news is that chronic absence can serve as an early warning signal that a child or a school is headed off track. Tracking attendance patterns warns us of when it’s time to engage parents, teachers, schools, and the community in keeping students and the school system on course. By catching this problem in the early grades, we can keep students on track academically and reinforce good attendance habits. Advocates and policymakers can ensure that school districts are effectively tracking and analyzing attendance patterns.

Some schools and communities in Georgia are starting to track chronic absence and seeing better attendance.

Project GRAD Atlanta has a 10-year track record of successfully getting at-risk students through the school system and cutting school absence in half. It works in a school feeder pattern to implement curricula, parent and community involvement, social services, academic enrichment, and classroom management.

The Savannah Chatham School District takes a comprehensive district-wide approach to addressing chronic absenteeism. After a child is absent three days, schools send a letter to the child’s primary caregivers. If a child is absent five or more days, a social worker pays a home visit to find out what’s happening. After 10 days, police and other agencies get involved.

Echols County in south Georgia turned things around by collaborating with multiple agencies and getting parents involved. New attendance policies and a judicial system that holds parents accountable are just some school systems changes that deter absences. Academic support and incentive programs reinforce positive student behavior. The county’s absence rate is now among the best in the state. And as truancy declined, CRCT scores and graduation rates steadily improved.

Tell us what is working in your community, school, or home to ensure children are attending school every day and achieving every year.

If you’d like to keep informed on this topic, tap into these resources:

Grade-Level Reading Initiative: Georgia Family Connection Partnership is working together with state leaders and local stakeholders in an unprecedented 10-year collaborative effort to close the literacy gap and raise the bar for academic success for all children.

Attendance Counts: This Center for the Study of Social Policy Web site discusses how parents, communities, educators, service providers, advocates, policymakers and funders can lead the efforts in their states to track and establish chronic absence as an early warning sign of students and schools headed off track for academic success.! Advocates, policymakers, and educators can use this Web site to find research and data, strategies and tools, state policy recommendations, and success stories on improving early grade-level reading and school attendance. A recent update shares how to reduce child poverty by increasing household financial resources through job creation, controlling household costs by reducing predatory financial practices, and more.