Here + Healthy
Nationwide, a staggering number of children are chronically absent, often at a very young age and often without attracting attention or intervention. While the causes are multi-fold, one stands out as especially significant: student health. Attendance Works and Healthy Schools Campaign are calling on partners across the country to sign on to Here + Healthy and raise their voices about the connection between chronic absenteeism and health.
Chronic absenteeism—most commonly defined as missing 10 percent or more of school days for any reason, excused, unexcused, or suspensions—detracts from learning and is a proven early warning sign of academic risk and school dropout.
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Students with chronic health conditions, such as asthma, diabetes or depression, often miss class because of the symptoms of their illness or because they are receiving medical treatment during the school day. Students can also be chronically absent because of acute health issues such as fever, flu or dental pain. All of these are compounded when students don’t have access to appropriate physical, mental, behavioral, dental and vision health services.
Fortunately there are many evidence-based interventions that can address the health-related causes of chronic absenteeism. But implementing them requires decision makers at all levels—from parents to principals, all the way to state education officers—to use data to understand the health-related causes of chronic absenteeism, demand appropriate solutions, and put political will and funding behind them. Making sure that these groups understand the connection between health, absenteeism and learning is an essential first step.
This fall, states will release their new school report cards under the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA). State and local report cards hold schools accountable to the public by providing families and the community with important information about each public school. For the first time, these report cards will include chronic absence rates. Because student physical and mental health issues are a leading cause of chronic absenteeism, and because chronic absenteeism can have such an impact on student achievement, the new school report cards present an important opportunity to mobilize stakeholders across many sectors, and raise awareness about the connection between learning and health.
Taking action to address health-related chronic absenteeism can have a powerful impact on students’ academic success and well-being for a lifetime.
What is chronic absenteeism?
Attendance Works defines chronic absenteeism as missing 10 percent or more of the school year for any reason, including excused and unexcused absences, suspensions, and time missed due to changing schools. Missing 10 percent of school is about two days a month on average. If a student misses 10 percent of the the year, they miss almost a full month of school.
What are the health related causes of absenteeism?
Health conditions are a leading cause of chronic absenteeism. Both chronic and acute health conditions can prevent students from attending school. Health-related conditions resulting in missed school days include:
- Mental health, anxiety and trauma
- Obesity issues
- Oral health
- Seizure disorders
- Vision problems
- Other chronic and acute health issues
- Family health issues, such as maternal depression, can also cause chronic absenteeism
What can schools and districts do to address health-related factors and absenteeism?
- Use data! Utilizing student health data from school climate surveys, public health agencies, health providers and other sources in school needs assessments can help schools understand why students are absent and plan the right interventions.
- Create a supportive school climate that promotes health and wellbeing, which might include initiative such as Responsive Classroom or Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports (PBIS).
- Implement an early warning system to identify students at greatest risk of being chronically absent.
- Improve the indoor and outdoor environment of the school to reduce asthma triggers (e.g., integrated pest management, reducing unnecessary chemicals in the school, bus idling, mold remediation and other issues).
- Ensure that students have individualized chronic disease management plans (e.g., 504 plans).
- Utilize staffing structures to support students with a range of needs.
- Partner with community entities to create wrap-around models of care.
What are the key elements of sustainable action to improve attendance?
Attendance Works sees five key ingredients to making sustainable, systemic changes that improve attendance:
- Positive Engagement helps build a culture of attendance by taking a positive, not punitive approach, helping everyone understand why going to school every day matters and what they can do to ensure students are in school.
- Actionable Data can be used to develop reports highlighting chronic absence patterns by school, grade, and student subgroups so that decision-makers can take action.
- Capacity Building ensures school staff and community partners understand what chronic absence is, why it matters for student achievement and success, how it differs from truancy, and how to respond effectively by organizing a multi-tiered approach to reducing absenteeism.
- Shared Accountability means that chronic absenteeism is incorporated into the systems used by districts and states to measure progress and identify areas of concern.
- Strategic Partnerships between district and community partners can help schools address systemic barriers to attendance.
Raise your voice
By signing on to Here + Healthy, your organization is committing to:
- Educate your networks about the inclusion of chronic absenteeism in state and local report cards
- Use data to understand the key health-related causes of chronic absenteeism at the local and state levels
- Raise your voice about the critical role that student health issues play in keeping children out of school
- Share the proven solutions that can ensure children are in school, healthy and ready to learn
Here + Healthy is led by:
Attendance Works and Healthy Schools Campaign are proud to join with other organizations to raise awareness of the critical connection between health, attendance and learning. Use the “Sign On” tab to add your organization’s name and voice to this page, and check back soon to find out more about our partners.