While our attention this month might vary from celebrating the beginning of fall sports to recognizing the sacrifices of those who suffered on September 11, 2001, this month officially marks the start of school for hundreds of school districts across the nation. Therefore; it is appropriate that the month of September has been designated as School Attendance Awareness Month.
Across the country, as many as 7.5 million students miss nearly a month of school every year—absences that can correlate with poor performance at every grade level. This trend starts as early as kindergarten and continues through high school, contributing to achievement gaps and ultimately to dropout rates.
This year CCPS will join school divisions around the country and recognizing September as Attendance Awareness Month, part of a nationwide movement intended to convey the message that every school day counts.
We cannot afford to think of absenteeism as simply an administrative matter. Good attendance is central to student achievement and our broader efforts to improve schools. All of our investments in curriculum and instruction won’t amount to much if students aren’t showing up to benefit from them.
Problems with absenteeism start surprisingly early: National research shows that one in 10 kindergarten and first-grade students are chronically absent, meaning that they miss 10 percent of the school year, or about 18 days of instruction, because of excused and unexcused absences.
Chronic absence can have consequences throughout a child’s academic career, especially for those students living in poverty, who need school the most and are sometimes getting the least. Children who are chronically absent in kindergarten and first grade are less likely to read proficiently by third grade, and students who don’t read well by that critical juncture are more likely to struggle in school. They are also more likely to be chronically absent in later years, since they never developed good attendance habits.
By middle school, chronic absence becomes one of the leading indicators that a child will drop out of high school. By ninth grade, it’s a better indicator than how well a student did on eighth grade tests.
So how do we address potential problems? A key step will be letting families know about the critical role they play in getting children to school on time every day. It is up to parents to build a habit of good attendance, enforce bedtimes and other routines and avoid vacations while school is in session. Teachers can reinforce these messages and, when they can, offer fun incentives for those students who show the best attendance or most improvement. Businesses, faith leaders and community volunteers can also convey this message.
We are also going to take a closer look at our attendance numbers to see how many students are missing and excessive number of days from school. We will set attendance goals for our principals and schools, particularly those schools we’re working to improve. Just as we use test scores to measure the progress that students and schools are making, we will look at chronic absence rates.
Please remember that our schools cannot address this issue alone. We are going to call on the whole community to help. Please take some time this month to think about what you can do within your own family and your own neighborhood to help get more kids to school. And join us in our effort to make every day count. Thank you.
For more information regarding the impact of absenteeism, please see my Superintendent Proclamation for the month of September.