School Attendance and Chronic Absenteeism

August 09, 2016 | United Way Team

The June newsletter for Reading into Success shared an exciting update about local work to decrease chronic absenteeism. You might be asking, “what is chronic absenteeism, why is it important, and how does it connect to United Way’s education goal?”

Chronic absenteeism is when a child misses 10% or more of the school year, both excused and unexcused absences. That might not sound like much, but locally, that means 18 days or more per year — that’s two days per month!

According to Attendance Works, a nationally known organization working to improve attendance, 10% of kindergarteners, and even more preschoolers, are chronically absent. And a California Study found only 17% of students who were chronically absent in both kindergarten and first grade were likely to be reading proficiently in third grade, compared to 64% of students who had good attendance.

Students can overcome these statistics if they improve their attendance. You can read more about Attendance in the Early Grades on the Attendance Works site.

United Way of East Central Iowa’s education goal is to improve the number of low-income students who are on track academically and developmentally by fourth grade. One critical step in achieving academic success is attending school every day.

Schools do strong work to ensure kids come to school every day, but the challenges that families encounter are often best addressed by services provided by United Way’s partners. Some of the challenges families face include transportation, health (the child’s or the parent’s), or even job related. As a community, we can support these families to help them get their children to school every day, increasing their time to learn and achieve academically.

Reading into Success Attendance Update

Preliminary numbers from the pilot at Wright Elementary indicate promising results in the battle against chronic absenteeism (missing 10% or more of the school year). During the 2014–15 school year, 12.8% of students at Wright Elementary were chronically absent. This dropped to 5.6% in the 2015–16 school year! In addition to a new Student Support Liaison at the school, Wright Elementary held an Attendance Awareness Month campaign which included attendance pledges for parents, information regarding when to keep kids home, and posters around the school sharing the importance of everyday attendance.

The Student Support Liaison and School Counselor used the school district policy to generate letters and calls to parent, as well as in-person meetings to work together to create an attendance plan. At midyear conferences, parents whose children were on track to be chronically absent received a graph comparing their student's attendance with the rest of their class. Used as an education tool, this graph opened the door to conversations regarding the impact absence can have on achievement. The school district plans to share these strategies with other schools to help them have a positive impact on attendance next year, too!