Thursday, September 10, 2015

The Importance of School Attendance

Today, I'm writing to you about an issue our elementary schools are focusing on this year - the issue of Chronic Absenteeism.  What is Chronic Absenteeism?  Chronic absenteeism is missing more than 16 days of school in any given school year, excused or unexcused.  Our hope is that by focusing on this issue early, and working to try to reduce chronic absenteeism among our youngest students, we can create healthy habits of school attendance and reduce larger potential issues later on in a child's educational career.   
It is hard to argue that in order for students to learn in school, they have to be regularly present.  Chronic Absenteeism is a serious concern that affects K-12 schools and districts all across the country.  Gorham is no different.  Not only do repeated school absences (excused or unexcused) cause students to lag behind in their learning pathways and reduce student success rates in their classes, it also increases the propensity to do poorly on classroom and/or state and national assessments.  Chronic absenteeism is also linked to increased failure rates for students, and if left unchecked, it is one of the key indicators of students dropping out of school altogether.

According to 2014-15 attendance data, 5.2% of our K-5 students were chronically absent here in Gorham.  That means that almost 65 students were chronically absent from school and at risk to potentially experience the negative impacts outlined above.

 Did you know??? . . .

*  In a nationally representative data set, chronic absence in kindergarten is associated with lower academic performance in first grade.  The impact is TWICE as much for students from low-income families.  (Chang and Romero 2008)

*  Children from low-income families who were also chronically absent in kindergarten had the lowest levels of achievement in fifth grade (Chang and Romero 2008)

*  Compared to children with average attendance, chronically absent students gained 14 percent fewer literacy skills in kindergarten, and 15 percent fewer literacy skills and 12 percent fewer mathematics skills in first grade, based on analysis of a nationally representative data set (Ready 2010)

*  Children from low-income families with good attendance also gained more literacy skills than peers from higher-income families during kindergarten and first grade (Ready 2010).

*  Students who were chronically absent in both pre-k and kindergarten often continued to be chronically absent in later years, and are more likely to be retained and have lower achievement (Connolly and Olson 2012).

*  A study of New York City data finds that “While relative improvements or declines in students’ test scores are predictive of students’ progress towards graduation, changes in attendance during the middle grades are also equally, if not more, predictive of the likelihood that students will be on-track in ninth grade to graduate from high school within four years” (Kieffer, Marinell, and Stephenson, 2011).

*  Analyses of data from Chicago show that course performance in the ninth grade was the strongest predictor of the likelihood that students would graduate, and the school attendance was by far the strongest predictor of course performance. The study found that even moderate amounts of absenteeism had strong impacts.  Students with high test scores who missed two or more weeks of school per semester were more likely to fail than students with low test scores who missed a week or less of school (Allensworth & Easton 2007).

*  Analyses of data from multiple states and school districts, many conducted in partnership between the Everyone Graduates Center at Johns Hopkins University and the National Governors Association, have consistently found chronic absenteeism to be among the strongest predictor of dropping out of high school, stronger even than suspensions, test scores, and being overage for grade, after having controlled for student demographics and backgrounds (Byrnes & Reyna 2012).

(Note, these data were taken from a Literature review conducted by John Hopkins University entitled:  "The Importance of Being In School:  A Report on Absenteeism In the Nation's Public Schools" published in May, 2012)

Now, you might have read all of this, and thought to yourself:  "Ya, but my child isn't chronically absent!  He/she might miss a day or two here and there - but that's not chronic." But then you should think to yourself how easy it is to miss 16 days of school in a school year.  What if you child has a bout of flu in October, and your child is out for 4 days, then a family vacation in the off-season (cheaper air fair is great) and your child misses another 7 days, then a sore throat (1 day), then an upset stomach and fever(2 days) and then an extended weekend to visit the family in Vermont(2 days) and - there you are - your child is now chronically absent from school!  Didn't take too much did it?

How about some more facts about the impacts of Chronic Absenteeism. . . 

*  In the early grades, students who are chronically absent have lower reading and math scores as well as weaker social-emotional skills that they need to persist in school.

*  Only 17 percent of students who were chronically absent in both kindergarten and 1st grade were reading proficiently by 3rd grade, compared with 64 percent of those with good attendance in the early years.

*  Chronic absenteeism in the middle school is the #1 indicator of a potential drop out student later in high school, above achievement, above race, and above socio-economic indicators.

(Note, these data were taken from an article in Education Week, published Oct. 7, 2014 entitled:  "Chronic Absenteeism Can Devastate K-12 Learning") 

Clearly, missing school, for whatever reason, has potentially negative consequences for children.  Now, you might be saying to yourself:   "But this isn't an issue at my school!"  And I wish I could agree. .. but I can't.  It is an issue in all schools within Gorham.  In 2015, 24 students at Village School met the designation of Chronically absent, 16 students at Narragansett, and 22 students at Great Falls.  Again, this doesn't sound like many students, but when you remember the potential negative repercussions outlined above, it is clear that this is too many. 

It is our hope that now that you have read this data you either have a refreshed and reenergized understanding of the importance of children attending school regularly, or your eyes are now open to this important topic in a way they may not have been already. Together, we can solve this problem for our children here in Gorham.  

Please know that the school system understands that this isn't all "on you" as parent/guardians.  Oh no, we have a part to play in this work moving forward as well.  Our part is to continue to do what we can to make our schools places where students want to be, where they want to come and learn.  We need to continue to offer engaging programming for all our students, to maintain positive school climates where all students feel safe, and to communicate with our partners in this work - all of you as parent/guardians. 

As a means to improve this communication piece, we have developed an attendance communication protocol to be used across all of our K-5 schools.  This protocol includes asking teachers to reach out to parent/guardians of any student who has been absent between 4-5 days to simply touch base and establish a supportive connection with parents.  If a student accumulates between 6-10 absences, an Attendance Oversight Committee (comprised of school staff) will reach out to parents to emphasize the importance of attendance, to understand the reasons for the absences, and to brainstorm together ways to improve attendance (if necessary).  If a student accumulates between 11-15 absences, the Attendance Oversight Committee will reach out to parent/guardians to determine if an Individualized Attendence Plan (IAP) is necessary, and if so - to work with parents to develop an IAP for the student. Finally, if a student accumulates 16+ absences, the Attendance Oversight Committee will reach out once again to revise the IAP as necessary.  All of this work is intended to be done in partnership with parents in a supportive and caring manner with the ultimate goal of improving attendance for all children at the forefront.

So now, you may ask yourself:  "As a parent/guardian, how can I contribute to this work to improve attendance at our schools?"  Well, I thought you'd never ask! :)  Here are just a few ideas, but feel free to think creatively and formulate your own:

1.  Make getting students to school on time every day a top priority.  In a world of many priorities, this may sound easy - but we know it is not.

2.  Work with your child to set an attendance goal per month and if they work hard and meet it, celebrate it! 

3.  Set out a regular bedtime and morning routine. 

4.  Lay out clothes and pack backpacks the night before so that in the morning all they have to do is get up and go! 

5.  Avoid extended family trips when school is in session.

6.  Last, but definitely not least - Communicate with the school and greater community agencies about barriers that keep kids from getting to school.  Is an issue bullying?  Is an issue transportation?  Is an issue a lack of day care?  The more we know what the specific problems are, the more equipped we are to find solutions together.

I hope you have found this piece informative.  If you want to learn more about the impacts of Chronic Absenteeism on children you can find additional resources by clicking on the following link: ( .  

Together, this is a problem WE CAN ADDRESS!  

Thank you, 

Heather J. Perry,

Superintendent of Schools



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