10 Tips to Reduce Chronic Absenteeism

By Cecelia Leong

All parents want their children to be successful, to graduate from high school and be prepared for college or the workforce. But not all parents are aware that students who miss just two days a month—whether the absences are excused or unexcused—are considered chronically absent and at risk of not graduating.

Chronic absenteeism affects as many as 6.8 million students nationwide. That’s 14% of our total student population! Age doesn’t seem to be a determining factor— it affects our youngest students, as well as teenagers.

In fact, chronic absenteeism is one of the earliest signs that students are off track academically, whether they are learning to read or gaining the knowledge they need to graduate from high school.

Studies show that missing just 10% or more of school can make it harder for children to learn to read by the end of third grade. This can result to students failing classes in middle school and can lead to suspensions and dropping out.

Together, Parents and Teachers Can Stop Chronic Absence

Children need to be in school to ensure they receive the support they need to learn and thrive. But there’s a whole range of issues— including poverty, health challenges, community violence and family circumstances— that make it difficult for them to take advantage of the opportunity to learn at school.

The good news is that parents and teachers can make a huge difference in whether students get to school every day! An innovative survey from the Ad Council shows that parents trust teachers to be the messengers.

Olga Nunez, a mother of three children, said she learned how chronic absence could affect her son’s academics from a teacher.

“I didn’t know that by missing one or two days a month, [my son] was being chronically absent. When I went to have a meeting with the teacher, she told me he was behind,” Nunez said.”Now my son is in the eighth grade… and attendance has become something in our household that we make very important.”

We’ve gathered our top 10 ideas to help get students to school every day. Parents and teachers can put these ideas to work and share them with other families and educators.

Tips for Reducing Chronic Absence

  • Learn what chronic absence is and how it impacts student success. Visit AttendanceWorks.org to find parent handouts have information and tips for kids in pre-K to 12th grade.
  • Help your children understand why going to school every day matters. Talk about what they miss when they are out, how showing up every day is an important skill forgetting and keeping a job and how attending every day helps them learn what they need to know to achieve their hopes and dreams.
  • Set attendance goals with your child, and track your child’s attendance on a calendar. Try offering small rewards for not missing any school, such as a later bedtime on weekends.
  • Make attendance a priority at home. Set daily routines such as regular bedtimes for younger kids. Make sure more independent students in middle and high school understand the link between chronic absence and school success. Schools can engage students with incentives, contests and strong messaging.
  • Develop back-up plans for getting your child to school using My Family Help Bank.
  • Make your child’s teacher a partner in your child’s attendance goals. Teachers may have insights into why your child might not want to attend, such as bullying or academic challenges.
  • Ask your school for its chronic absence data. So often, we as parents think we are the only ones struggling with a problem, but it might be a lot of families facing the same challenge.
  • Identify and work with others to reduce common barriers to your child’s strong attendance, such as a lack of reliable transportation or chronic health problems like asthma.
  • Reach out to your child’s school for help. The teacher, principal, counselor and nurse are all available to provide support. Some schools can refer you to resources to help the whole family.
  • Help your school offer incentives for improved and strong attendance. Make sure your school doesn’t just recognize perfect attendance for a semester, but finds ways to encourage students to improve, especially those who face challenges to getting to school. If you have time, volunteer to help with award ceremonies, creating attendance award certificates or even reach out to local businesses to contribute incentives like gift cards or food items.

Get more tips, strategies and downloadable tools for parents and teachers at AttendanceWorks.org and PTAOurChildren.org/Attendance.

What PTAs Can Do

Join the Attendance Awareness Campaign, a nationwide effort to promote the importance of regular attendance. Schools, communities and national partners take action to support solutions to reducing chronic absence with activities in September. Learn more at Awareness.AttendanceWorks.org.

Cecelia Leong is the associate director for programs at Attendance Works.

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