September is time to improve attendance

iStock_000001028732XSmallWhen do you know that a student is missing too much school?

Based on new research from the Baltimore Education Research Consortium,  it’s possible to know as soon as you look at September attendance data.

Absenteeism in the first month of school predicts poor attendance patterns throughout the year and provides an early warning sign that educators need to intervene and put students back on track, according to researcher Linda S. Olson. Olson examined attendance in the Baltimore City Public Schools for pre-kindergarten through 12th grade students in September and throughout the rest of the 2012-13 school year.

The study found:

  • Students who missed fewer than 2 days in September typically had good attendance for the rest of the year.
  • Half the students who missed 2-4 days in September went on to miss a month or more of school.
  • Nearly 9 out of 10 students who missed more than 4 days in September were chronically absent that year.

Missing more than 20 days in a school year is an indicator of disengagement, especially in the middle and high school years, according to the study, while in the early grades it often reflects family and community conditions, such as a lack of access to good health care, unreliable transportation, unstable housing or an unsafe walk to school.


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In a new national study by Attendance Works, researchers found that students who reported missing 3 or more days of school in the month before they took the National Assessment for Educational Progress (NAEP) had lower average scores in reading and math than students with fewer absences.

In 4th grade, the absentee students scored an average 12 points lower on the reading assessment than those with no absences, more than a full grade level on the NAEP achievement scale.  In 8th grade, absentee students scored an average of 18 points lower on the math assessment.

Montana and New Mexico had worst absenteeism rates at the 4th-grade level with 25% or more of students reporting that they missed 3 or more days of school before the assessment.  At the 8th grade, these two states are joined by Arizona, Oklahoma, Oregon and Wyoming.

Some of the other effects of absenteeism reported by recent studies include:

Negative effects on socio-emotional skills and grit and perseverance.  A California study that tracked 10,740 students in the Early Childhood Longitudinal Study found that chronic absence is associated with a lack of certain social skills including the ability to pay attention, work independently, adapt to change, persist in tasks and eagerness to learn.

Effects of absenteeism on literacy skills starts before kindergarten.  Chronically absent  4-year-old students had weaker kindergarten readiness scores, including letter recognition and pre-literacy scores.  This was especially pronounced for those children entering pre-school with the weakest skills.

“Why September Matters: Improving Student Attendance,” by Linda S. Olson, policy brief, Baltimore Education Research Consortium, July 2014.

“Absences Add Up: How School Attendance Influences Student Success,” by Alan Ginsburg, Phyllis Jordan and Hedy Chang,  Attendance Works, August 2014.

One Response to “September is time to improve attendance”

  1. DeloresJenkins

    I enjoyed reading your article and I want to learn more. I just began Director of Attendance at my school and I agree attendance matters.


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