Unhealthy Absences

High school students

High school students (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

When one child misses school, it can have detrimental effects on his or her classmates, and the community as a whole. Attendance Works, an organization dedicated to advancing student success by reducing chronic absenteeism, asserts that all students are more likely to succeed in academics when everyone consistently attends school.  It’s difficult for the teacher and the class to build skills and progress in the curriculum if students are frequently absent.Research shows that one in ten students are chronically absent from school – missing nearly a month of school every year, or two days a month, beginning in kindergarten and going through high school. Specifically:

  • As many as 7.5 million students are chronically absent nationwide, including one in ten kindergarteners
  • As early as pre-kindergarten, chronic absence predicts poor attendance and academic performance in later grades
  • By 6th grade, chronic absence is a leading indicator that a student will drop out of high school
  • By 9th grade, chronic absence becomes a better predictor of dropout rates than 8th grade test scores

While schools are tracking how many students show up every day and how many are skipping school, many do not calculate how many are missing 10% of the school year.  Parents and teachers don’t realize how quickly absences can add up to academic trouble.

The Hatcher Group, a Maryland-based communications firm that supports Attendance Works in its efforts to promote policies and practices that are needed to improve attendance, determined that the following three categories explain why students are missing school:

1. Myths: Common myths about attendance make it less likely to be considered a top priority. Often, parents see good attendance as a matter of complying with rules rather than providing their children with more and better opportunities to learn. Consequently, missing school is seen as a problem only if a child is skipping school or if the child misses several days consecutively. Few realize that too many absences, even if they are excused, can quickly add up and hinder learning. Many principals, parents and teachers do not recognize that missing school as early as preschool and kindergarten can have a detrimental impact on the student’s ability to succeed.

2. Barriers: Many students cannot get to school because of:

  • Chronic health conditions
  • Inadequate access to medical, mental health or dental care
  • Unstable or poor-quality unhealthy housing
  • Unreliable transportation
  • A lack of effective family and community supports – this is especially true for children living in poverty or involved in the foster care or juvenile justice systems

3. Aversion: Sometimes poor attendance occurs when students avoid going to school because of:

  • Bullying
  • Academic difficulty
  • Dangerous routes to and from school
  • An unhealthy school climate – punitive disciplinary practices or the lack of effective instruction
  • Teacher absenteeism

Wide Angle Youth Media, a non-profit organization that provides after school youth programs focused around media education, storytelling and civic engagement, is striving to reduce chronic absence in Baltimore City Public Schools by 25% by 2015.  In collaboration with the Baltimore Student Attendance Collaborative, Wide Angle is internally tracking their students’ attendance rates to improve the absence rates of program participants.

English: Category:Baltimore City College

English: Category:Baltimore City College (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Efforts include having regular conversations about the importance of consistent school attendance, as well as requiring all high school students to submit report cards each quarter, documenting their attendance/absences.  In addition, Wide Angle has a contract with the Baltimore City Public School Office of Accountability to gain access to absentee data for students.For an example of work completed by Wide Angle Youth Media students, check out this Behind the Scenes:  Attendance Collaborative Meeting campaign!


Given the impact of chronic absenteeism on students missing school – as well as the learning taking place for other students and the “wellness” of the community as a whole – what are you and your local school doing to support school attendance?

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In my role as Project Specialist, I manage numerous virtual trainings and in-person meetings with an excellent track record of organizing and executing seamless events. I am a Wide Angle Youth Media Board Member, a non-profit organization that provides Baltimore youth with media education to their own stories, and serve as the Business Advisory Committee Chair. Read more.