Improving student truancy in schools
Truancy is a pressing issue but how can schools tackle the problem? Source: Shutterstock

Student absenteeism is a problem that plagues many schools, while in some cases, the problem can be chronic.

Among the key findings of a 2018 report by Attendance Works in the US was the fact that “chronic absence is a pervasive challenge affecting the entire nation”.

They noted that nationwide, “16 percent of all students – or one out of seven – is chronically absent. In six states and the District of Columbia, more than 20 percent of students were chronically absent in 2015-16. In 59 percent of schools nationwide – or roughly 55,000 schools – at least one out of 10 students was chronically absent.”

Other findings include:

  • 45 percent of high schools have high and extreme levels of chronic absence. By number, about the same number of elementary schools (8,316) and high schools (8,318) have high or extreme chronic absence.
  • Schools serving children in special education, alternative education and vocational education are more likely to have extreme levels of chronic absence.
  • Schools with high levels of poverty are likelier to experience high and extreme chronic absence. However, some high-poverty schools have low chronic absence after adopting effective, prevention-oriented approaches to improve daily attendance and help students and their families overcome challenges attached to getting to class.
  • Data suggests that poverty, not locale, remains the driving factor for chronic absence.

Meanwhile, an EdSource report highlighted that in the US, chronic absenteeism has gone up slightly in California schools.

Based on data released by the California Department of Education, they noted: “More than one in 10 students statewide were chronically absent from school in 2017-18, meaning they missed at least 10 percent of the school year”.

Speaking to EdSource, Rob Manwaring, Senior Education Policy Advisor for Children Now, a statewide child advocacy organisation, said: “‘The numbers are bad and getting slightly worse”, referring to the fact that the statewide rate rose to 11.1 percent from 10.8 percent in 2016-17, the first year the state released the numbers.

He noted that it is important to address a problem before it becomes a crisis.

Effects of missing school

Studies suggest missing school negatively affects performance. Source: Shutterstock

An Economic Policy Institute (EPI) report noted that, “Students who have been diagnosed with a disability, Hispanic-English language learners, Native Americans, and students who are eligible for free lunch, were the most likely to miss school, while Asian students were rarely absent.”

Surprisingly, EPI said students with “occasional absences” were also negatively affected.

On average, they found that “students who missed school three or more days in the month before being tested scored between 0.3 and 0.6 standard deviations lower (depending on the number of days missed) on the NAEP (National Assessment of Educational Progress) test than those who did not miss any school.”

The more school days students miss, the wider the gap relative to those who did not miss school.

They also noted that, “Starting as early as pre-kindergarten and kindergarten, absenteeism can affect a child’s ability to read well by the end of third grade, a critical milestone”, while middle schoolers risk failing courses from missing valuable instruction time, while high schoolers who are chronically absent are more likely to drop out or not graduate from college.

Tackling absenteeism

Writing for eSchool News, David Hardy suggests that educators can:

  • Form an attendance review team to catch problems early on
  • Get the attendance review team to provide individualised support to students if absences continue
  • Build a positive school culture so students are excited to come to school
  • Teach and nurture the behaviours that create a positive school culture
  • Collect and regularly act on real-time data
  • Develop positive student-to-teacher relationships
  • Promote equity
  • Involve families to be more involved with their child’s schools  
  • Develop community partnerships to ensure students needs are met

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