Hedy N. Chang directs Attendance Works, a national initiative aimed at advancing student success by addressing chronic absence. She co-authored the seminal report, Present, Engaged and Accounted For: The Critical Importance of Addressing Chronic Absence in the Early Grades and has written numerous other articles about student attendance.
In February, Oregon became one of the first states to take a thorough look at its school attendance data, and the results surprised many of us. Nearly a quarter of students missed 10 percent or more of school year, a level of absenteeism that put them at risk academically.
This is true across the state, affecting many schools and districts where daily attendance rates look just fine. The reality is that most schools only track average daily attendance (ADA) but this aggregate figure can mask large numbers of individual students missing so much school that they are at risk academically.
For example, even in a school of 200 students with 95 percent average daily attendance, 25 percent (or 50) of the students could be missing a month of school (i.e. chronically absent) over the course of the school year. It all depends on whether most students are missing a few days or whether a small, but still significant minority of students are missing a month or more of school.
Take a look at our study, Chronic Absenteeism: A Problem Hidden in Plain Sight to learn more about why we need to track chronic absence not just average daily attendance.
The state has responded by making chronic absence one of the metrics considered in the new achievement compacts districts are signing. But there’s important work to be done at the local level, as well, and we need school superintendents to get involved.
I run a national group called Attendance Works that promotes better policy, practice and research on school attendance. We joined Chalkboard Project and Children’s Institute in supporting Oregon’s research into chronic absence, which was produced by the ECONorthwest consulting firm.
Beyond Oregon, an estimated 5 million to 7.5 million students nationwide are chronically absent every year. Chronic absence, which includes excused and unexcused absences, is one of the earliest warning signs that a student will drop out of high school.
The academic reverberations are felt as early as kindergarten. About 24 percent of Oregon kindergartners are chronically absent and these absences correlate with poor academic performance and poor attendance in later grades.
But many school districts still don’t track this important data point or look at it early enough in a child’s academic career.
Recognizing this, Attendance Works and The Campaign for Grade-Level Reading are asking superintendents to join our Make Every Day Count Call to Action. We’re urging district leaders to make attendance a top priority starting in the early grades, mobilize the community around reducing chronic absence and drive with data to identify students and schools in need of extra support.
Superintendents who sign up will receive strategies, tools and media products to help them improve school attendance. Some of these resources—including a public messaging toolkit, handouts for parents, and advice on developing attendance teams and student incentives— are already up on our website, www.attendanceworks.org.
If you’re a school superintendent, I hope you’ll sign up today. If you’re an advocate or a parent, encourage your superintendent to get involved. Click here to learn more about this initiative, find out who has joined or sign the Call to Action. If you have any questions, email email@example.com.