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Every school day counts: The importance of regular attendance on student success

Kavyapriya Sethu

November 12, 2021

Student Attendance | Design by Storyset

Every student can't be Hermoine Granger (I mean, she used a time turner to attend extra classes. Phew! Talk about sincerity). Often, students tend to miss classes for various reasons. Missing a day or so every month doesn't seem like a big deal. But it can add up to a child being chronically absent. Chronic absences make students miss learning opportunities and educational experiences. Further, if not caught early, schools can't effectively strategize interventions to improve student outcomes.

What is Chronic Absenteeism?  

It is commonly measured as the percentage of students who missed 10% or more days of school in a year (while in some places, it is missing at least 15 days of school). And this includes unexcused absences, excused absences, and out-of-school suspensions. 

It is often overlooked because schools monitor the average daily attendance (the percentage of students who show up each day to school), and this data can be misleading. A higher percentage of average daily attendance (ADA) could disguise the fact that a large percentage of students are missing nearly a month of school. Research states that schools between 93 and 97 percent ADA need to analyze their data to determine the extent of the problem while schools below 93 percent ADA almost certainly are dealing with chronic absenteeism. 

Truancy is another metric that is widely tracked by schools. However, it measures only unexcused absences. That means kids who with their parent and teachers' permissions to miss school are not monitored, increasing the chances that an underlying problem might be overlooked.  And tracking truancy is done to ensure compliance with rules. 

Chronic absence data need to be collected and tracked as it is an indicator of disengagement. Schools need to understand the pattern of how many and which students miss school so they can provide early support where needed. 

Student Engagement Indicators and Types

Let’s delve a little deeper into the impact attendance has on student success and what schools can do to improve attendance, in turn, improve student engagement. 

The domino effect of irregular attendance on student success 

There might be numerous reasons hindering a student from succeeding. Can one of the reasons be irregular attendance? And how does attendance exactly impact student success?

  1. Prevents achieving early learning milestone

Attendance and participation are one of the factors that positively influence student outcomes. When students attend school more regularly, they tend to achieve more as compared to students with irregular attendance. 

Research by NCCP estimated that at least 10% of kindergarten and first-grade students miss a month or more of the school year (and this number only increases in the subsequent years). And these have a directly proportional effect on student achievement. Students with low attendance in lower classes tend to find it difficult to reach early learning milestones in Math, English, and General Knowledge. It also correlates to poor attendance in later years.

Absenteeism in kindergarten vs. performance in first grade

Another research by Attendance Works found that the more chronically absent the students are in the early years, the more they require reading interventions by the end of second grade. 

  1. Increases the likelihood of high school dropouts

In line with the previous point, a research report by the Baltimore Education Research Consortium implies that a majority of students who eventually drop out of high school enter ninth grade with a pattern of chronic absenteeism that goes back at least several years. The statistics gathered by the  Education data initiative supports that chronic absences are a leading cause for students dropping out of high school, nudging schools to prioritize attendance. 

Leading cause for students dropping out of high school

And this leads us to the last point. 

  1. Negatively impacts adulthood

Students who graduate from high school have a better chance to get into good colleges, therefore increasing employment opportunities. In turn, they reap the benefits provided - health insurance, better living conditions, and more. Research shows that adults with fewer years of education tend to engage in unhealthy behaviors such as smoking and have higher rates of health concerns (diabetes, obesity, etc.). 

Causes for chronic absenteeism

Some of the common causes that lead to a student being absent from school are: 

  • Significant health concerns such as asthma, poor dental health, vision impairment, diabetes, and obesity
  • Mental health issues like fear, depression, anxiety, often triggered by stress, violence, or trauma in their environment
  • Violence and bullying experienced at school 
  • Lack of sense of belonging at school and among peers
  • Problems at home, unstable housing arrangements, unreliable transportation, job loss within the family, lack of health insurance, and other socio-economic factors

What can schools do? 

Chronic absence can be solved by adopting a data-driven approach that involves engaging both students and families to identify how to prevent absences and understand where early intervention is needed. Here are a few steps schools can take. 

Collect the right data

Ensure attendance is taken regularly and accurately. Streamline the process of taking attendance, making it easier for students and parents to apply for leave and for teachers to track attendance easily. 

Review and identify problems early 

Set up a team to review school-wide reports on absenteeism (weekly, monthly, or yearly) and analyze trends between classes and types of attendance. Using the data, brainstorm intervention plans to help students improve. Design a program (involving school, parents, students, and communities) that defines what is the course of action to be taken when students are absent for 'n' consecutive days or when attendance fails to improve. 

Get students and families involved

Students and parents/guardians often don’t realize the effect of irregular attendance on student success. Engage students and parents in discussions and workshops on the importance of going to school every day. Also, have frequent talks with parents in parent-teacher conferences about attendance problems observed.  

Incentivize good attendance

Students often respond better to positive recognition and friendly competition among peers. Schools can provide school recognition and simple rewards (like extra recess time) to students who come to school regularly. The start of the school year is a particularly good time to focus on attendance.

Develop intervention programs

Many reasons keep students away from school. However, schools can strategize solutions that help identify the problem early and equip students with resources to make better decisions. 

  • School counselors and health professionals should assess the reasons a student is absent by capturing and analyzing data about the student's health. They can then work with families to formulate strategies that alleviate the issues. 
  • After-school tutoring programs and mentoring programs can help students who avoid coming to school because they are struggling with their academics. 
  • Implement intervention programs to improve student awareness, enabling them to make better decisions about their health, lifestyle, and school. These can include mental health programs, substance abuse prevention and treatment programs, comprehensive sex education, bullying, and violence prevention programs. 

Cultivate a positive school climate

When students feel connected to the school, they are excited about attending school. So creating a positive school climate is essential.

  • Prioritize improving student engagement through school activities.
  • Having a safe and caring environment at school reassures students that they are cared for and would encourage them to come to school. So, build better student-teacher relationships by giving students the attention and care that they need. 
  • Involve students in discussions and allow their voices to be heard. Motivate them to take responsibility for maintaining good school attendance.
  • Another step can be revisiting discipline policies and changing those that further discourage students from attending school.
  • Encourage students to think about what they would like to become or what goals they would like to achieve. A student might want to score high in maths while another might have a goal to get into the basketball team. Both are equally valid. Help them understand how schools can help them get where they want to be. 

How can Orah help? 

Orah’s Supervise enables staff to take attendance (through roll checks) quickly and easily and derive insights about students’ participation/attendance in classes and activities. Orah’s Unify also provides a location and attendance dashboard that sheds light on the number of roll checks completed, average absences per student, and who is absent, and when. 

You can jot down any data related to the student, especially that of wellbeing, through pastoral notes. Any data collected about the student will appear as records under each student’s profile. Pastoral and attendance reports can help you make data-driven decisions about providing support to improve student attendance, engagement, and wellbeing.

Pastoral data collected within students' profiles
Attendance data collected to draw actionable insights

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Kavyapriya Sethu

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