Student Health Is Both a Cause and a Solution of Absenteeism

  • September 1, 2015
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Today marks the start of Attendance Awareness Month, and it also marks the release of the Mapping the Early Attendance Gap: Charting a Course for Student Success report from Healthy Schools Campaign in partnership withAttendance Works. The report found that disparities in attendance rates beginning as early as preschool are contributing to achievement gaps and high school dropout rates across the country.

Many absences don’t involve skipping school; rather, the absences are excused and tied directly to health factors such as asthma and dental problems; learning disabilities; and mental health issues related to trauma and community violence. Too many absences of any kind — excused, unexcused or disciplinary — can erode achievement.

“Student health issues, including physical and behavioral health, are a leading cause of student absenteeism,” said Rochelle Davis, president and CEO of Healthy Schools Campaign. “Ensuring that students are able to go to school each day in a healthy environment and have access to health services is a key strategy for reducing absenteeism. Health providers and public health agencies can and should play an important role in working with schools to turn around poor attendance.”

The Mapping the Early Attendance Gap report shows that absenteeism, while a concern for all students, disproportionately affects low-income children; students from certain racial and ethnic groups; and those with disabilities. Weak attendance often reflects the challenges that accompany poverty such as unstable housing, unreliable transportation and limited access to quality health care. For all students — rich or poor — higher absenteeism correlates with lower test scores.

Student health issues are responsible for many of the absences in the early grades. For example, nationwide, asthma causes students to miss 14 million days of school per year and oral health problems contribute 2 million additional lost days of school. Absences due to depression, anxiety and ADHD are harder to quantify but rob many students of valuable instructional time.

But states have the power to combat high absenteeism rates through various interventions. The Mapping the Early Attendance Gap report highlights how states can engage key champions, including education leaders, health providers, businesses and parent organizations; use data to identify students and schools with high chronic absence rates, especially in the early grades; and learn from places that have improved attendance despite challenging conditions.

Read more about the Mapping the Early Attendance Gap report here.

If you are interested in learning more about this report, please join us on Sept. 9 at 2 p.m. ET for a webinar hosted by Healthy Schools Campaign and Attendance Works.Register here for the webinar.