As the new school year begins, school staff and parents will undertake a range of activities to ensure students are off to a good start and have a successful year. Yet, a key aspect of school success may be overlooked—that is whether or not children are attending school regularly. In short, too many children miss too many days of school. Each year, approximately one in ten students is chronically absent, missing ten percent or more school days or about a month of school. In some cases, even in kindergarten and first grade, as many as four in ten students will miss about a month of school, jeopardizing their academic success.
Very simply, students need to attend school regularly for their academic success. It has been shown that students who are chronically absent (miss ten percent or more school days) in kindergarten and first grade are less likely to read proficiently in third grade than their peers who attend school regularly. Additionally, research indicates that chronically absent sixth grade students have lower graduation rates. Furthermore, while all children, regardless of their socio‐economic background, do worse when chronically absent, poor school attendance is particularly problematic among children living in poverty.
Student Advocacy, Westchester County and several community partners are proud to join with the national organization Attendance Works and the New York State Council on Children and Families’ Every Student Present Campaign to make September 2013 Attendance Awareness Month in Westchester County. On September 9th, the first day of school, County Executive Rob Astorino will proclaim September as Attendance Awareness Month at School 30 in Yonkers.
Parents, school staff and community members can all help support the habit of good school attendance. This can be done by building awareness, recognizing very good (not perfect) and improved attendance and supporting our schools and families. However, a fundamental first step is to improve our ability to know which students are chronically absent. Currently, accountability report cards tend to report annual attendance rates. This provides a picture of the overall daily school attendance. Yet, we are unable to decipher whether the rate that results is due to many children only missing a few days of school or a few children missing many days of school. If we are to effectively identify and support chronically absent students, an important first step is to monitor attendance in a way that allows us to know who is missing ten percent or more school days.
Attendance improves when schools, communities and families partner together to monitor chronic absence data, build a local culture of daily attendance and identify and address barriers to getting to class. Reducing chronic absence can help significantly improve outcomes, especially for our most vulnerable children, and increase students’ readiness for college and careers.
As this school year begins, let’s work together to increase our ability to identify students in need of support and ensure every student is present and has the opportunity to learn. For more information, including materials that can be used to promote good school attendance, contact Student Advocacy at (914) 347-7039 x112 or email firstname.lastname@example.org. Let’s make every day count!
Prepared by Karen Blumenthal, Policy Advocate, Student Advocacy, 3 West Main Street, Elmsford, NY 10523.