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Attendance Awareness Month: 10 Quick Tips to Address Chronic Absence

Attendance Awareness Month: 10 Quick Tips to Address Chronic Absence

September is back-to-school time, and all educators are hard at work brainstorming ways to make this school year the most successful yet. But before any of that hard work in the classroom can pay off, there is one critically important prerequisite to consider—actually getting students to attend class. That’s why September has been designated National Attendance Awareness Month: to get the word out and help educators and parents make school a place that students want to be.

According to the national nonprofit initiative Attendance Works, half of the students who miss two to four days of school in September end up missing nearly a month of school in total throughout the year. Those missed days quickly translate into missed academic opportunity. Here are some more data points about school absence that might surprise you:

  • “Chronic absence” is defined by Attendance Works as missing 10% of school—the equivalent of just two days per month or 18 days in a school year.
  • In the 2015–16 school year, more than 8 million students in the U.S. were chronically absent.
  • One in ten kindergarten and 1st grade students meet the criteria for chronic absence.
  • Absenteeism amongst young students is correlated with lower rates of reading proficiency by 3rd grade—one California study found that only 17% of students chronically absent in kindergarten and 1st grade were reading at grade level after grade 3.
  • Chronic absence is a leading indicator that a student will drop out of high school—a study out of the University of Utah found that just one year of chronic absence between 8th and 12th grade increased the likelihood of dropout by 7.4 times.
  • Close to half of high schools have high or extreme levels of chronic absence.
  • Chronic absence disproportionately affects students and schools in high-poverty areas.
  • Chronic absence affects specific student populations more than others—especially Native American, Black, Hispanic, and English language learner students—but it occurs in all geographic locations and among all student demographic populations.

So, what can educators do to address absenteeism and help students start turning around any negative effects? Here are 10 quick tips:

  1. Educate parents and other caregivers about the impacts of chronic absence, starting with open house nights and other events at the beginning of the school year.
  2. Clearly communicate attendance expectations (and consequences for unexcused or excessive absences) to students and their families.
  3. Develop a system to accurately monitor student attendance and chronic absence. The National Center for Education Statistics’ The Forum Guide to Collecting and Using Attendance Data provides one such model.
  4. Focus on building a welcoming, positive school climate by prioritizing social and emotional learning, encouraging student input and ownership, and emphasizing respectful interactions.
  5. Utilize a tiered approach to encourage strong attendance among all students, work with students when they first start to miss school days, and intervene effectively with students who are chronically absent.
  6. Reach out to chronically absent students and their families to understand what the barriers to attendance actually are, whether it’s transportation, hunger, homelessness, or other challenges.
  7. Be mindful of mental health and bullying struggles that may be contributing to student absences, and be aware of what resources are available in your school and community to refer students to when appropriate.
  8. Consider building a mentoring program to help connect students with positive adult role models who can act as an additional support system and encourage them make constructive decisions—including attending school regularly.
  9. Encourage participation in after-school activities to help students develop meaningful connections to their school community; explore interests; make peer-to-peer connections; and build positive habits like healthy eating, regular exercise, and accountability.
  10. Celebrate good attendance habits and recognize improved attendance with schoolwide incentive programs.

Looking for more ideas to improve student attendance this school year? Check out these Resources to Fight Chronic Absenteeism!'s picture
Sarah Cornelius

Sarah Cornelius is an Associate Product Manager at Edmentum and has been with the company since 2014. In her role, she works to provide educators with engaging and insightful resources. Sarah received her B.S. in Professional Communications and Emerging Media from the University of Wisconsin - Stout.