Success in school begins with being at school. For many, this first step toward school success is missing. Over 27,600, or 15 percent of Maine students, were chronically absent, according to the U.S. Department of Education, Office of Civil Rights 2016 report (www.countmeinmaine.org/). Chronic absenteeism is defined as missing 10 percent or more of the total school days within one calendar year. Frequently when a student is chronically absent, it leads to gaps in learning, falling behind in school, and placing the student at an increased risk of not graduating or dropping out. School attendance is a strong predictor of student performance.
Students who are chronically absent in the younger grades are less likely to read proficiently by third grade and are more likely to have learning gaps in math. Math instruction requires learning prerequisite skills to access more advanced learning. It’s difficult to learn how to multiply if the child does not have a solid understanding of place value that is taught in the earlier grades.
Tackling the problem of absenteeism requires a collaborative approach among the school, parents and the child to understand the barriers that are causing the child to be absent. Families need to work with the schools to help identify strategies that can assist in improving attendance like scheduling appointments and vacations when school is not in session. It’s important to analyze the data around the student’s absences, as sometimes parents’ beliefs about their student’s total absences may be inaccurate. Parents may believe that their child has missed far fewer days of school than they have. There may be other contributing factors for the number of absences like arriving late and leaving early, which adds up to days of lost instruction.
Children should be allowed to stay home when they are truly sick, but oftentimes that occasional stomachache is more a sign of anxiety than a contagious virus. Families need to work with the schools to help identify strategies that can assist in lessening the anxiety, rather than allowing the child to stay home, which usually leads to increased anxiety, as they now have missed the instruction needed to complete the missing assignments. Children must be present and engaged if they are to benefit from what is taught in school.
The school can reduce absenteeism by creating a welcoming student-centered environment for children and families, and promote family engagement activities. The expectation of good attendance should be embedded into the culture of the classroom, the family and the student. When absences begin adding up, the issue should be addressed in a supportive manner.
Chronic absenteeism is an early warning sign that children are off track for success. Attendance matters not only at school, but is an essential skill needed after schooling is completed. Absenteeism costs U.S. companies billions of dollars each year in lost productivity, wages, poor quality of goods and services, and excess management time. Focusing on good attendance from the time the child enters kindergarten will not only help them be more prepared and successful in college, but equally important, it prepares them for success in their future workplace.
As this school year is nearing the end, it is a good time for you and your child to reflect on his/her attendance and set a goal to finish the year strong, knowing that every day counts when it comes to success in school.
Becky Foley is superintendent of schools in Regional School Unit 5 (Freeport-Durham-Pownal). She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.