More than 1 million school days – this is the number lost during the 2015-16 school year due to chronic absenteeism. According to the U.S. Department of Education, nearly 8 million students (16% of all K-12 students nationwide) were reported chronically absent during that time period, defined as missing 10% or more of the year. This data point is one of the strongest early warning signs of poorer social-emotional outcomes, lower achievement and even school dropout. Too often, though, it is overlooked due to difficulty aggregating, interpreting and acting on attendance data at the student, school and district level.
Students are often absent for various reasons outside of their and educators’ control—such as illness, transportation challenges and family obligation. However, there are several factors that can be influenced by a child’s school, such as the learning environment, campus culture and student’s social-emotional skills.
Reducing absenteeism is one of the most significant opportunities for improving educational outcomes and closing achievement gaps. Panorama Education’s research and work with districts from across the country has revealed teachers and administrators are innovative when it comes to finding new ways to keep kids in school. Here are three strategies educators are embracing to reduce chronic absenteeism:
1. Understand the “why” behind absences
Understanding the “why” behind absences is essential for schools looking to improve attendance rates, and that starts with effectively tracking student progress across academics, behavior, and social-emotional learning. Panorama’s research has revealed that students with high SEL are half as likely to be chronically absent, and SEL correlates most with attendance among high school students who have more agency over whether to attend.
When educators focus on promoting relationships and SEL skills, students attend school more often, feel more connected to their learning, and succeed academically. In addition, research shows that students who lack meaningful social connections are at risk for attendance and behavior problems, dropping out, and even committing suicide.
2. Build community awareness around a district-wide attendance goal
Attendance goal awareness campaigns engage families and community members around a specific attendance goal and have been shown to reduce chronic absenteeism by up to 25%. It is also helpful to get students engaged by rewarding them for positive attendance. When students track their attendance in a fun and interactive way, they feel more engaged and invested in their success at school and are more likely to maintain healthy attendance patterns over time.
It is also helpful for schools to send letters home to parents with attendance “nudges,” which are designed to raise a family’s awareness of their child’s absenteeism figures by revealing how they compare to other students, and the impact these missed days has on the student’s learning. This initiative has been shown to reduce absenteeism by 10% or more.
3. Track attendance and other key indicators in one platform
Many schools currently monitor a student’s progress using disparate systems that utilize several different sources to collect data. To proactively address a student’s attendance issue before it becomes a major problem, it is crucial for educators and administrators to adopt a platform that integrates key indicators at the individual student, school and district level all in one dashboard.
By monitoring early warning indicators every day, educators can spend more time supporting students before they become chronically absent or fail courses. School counselors, teachers, and administrators can log into the platform daily to see how students are progressing across attendance, academics, behavior, and SEL. Having a complete view of student progress at their disposal enables educators to clearly see when students are “on track” or “at risk” so that they can take the data-informed actions needed to reduce chronic absenteeism.
Nye County School District in Nevada increased daily attendance by 1.05%, drawing an additional 16 students per day by launching an attendance showdown to see which grade (sixth, seventh or eighth) could achieve the highest attendance rate in the last two months of the school year. Once their attendance challenge was in motion, they monitored data school-wide, at each grade level and at the student level using the interactive dashboards from Panorama Student Success to get a holistic understanding of how attendance was progressing— and used the data to drive strategy.
September is Attendance Awareness Month, and this year’s theme, “We Belong in School!”, emphasizes the role everyone, from educators to health professionals, to local agency and business partners, can play in creating welcoming and engaging schools that encourage daily attendance. Educators, administrators and districts as a whole should use this time to step back and evaluate how they can revise current strategies using the above tips to get more kids to attend school regularly.