We’re in the middle of the third annual Attendance Awareness Month, which brings to attention the problem of chronic absenteeism — defined as missing 10 percent or more of the school year. Attendance Awareness Month is a national event that recognizes the connection between school attendance and academic achievement and brings together organizations and individuals from across the country.
At the front of this effort is Attendance Works, one of the leading voices on chronic absenteeism and a key partner in our work to make the connection between student health and learning.
Earlier this month, Healthy Schools Campaign and Attendance Works co-released the Mapping the Early Attendance Gap: Charting a Course for Student Success report. 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, and that students as early as preschool are already missing too much school. This report makes it clear that chronic absenteeism is a national problem and that student health issues are a leading contributor to missed school days. Raising awareness about chronic absenteeism and what states and communities can do to address it is critical to turning this problem around. Which brings us back to why we think Attendance Awareness Month is so important.
We began working with Attendance Works last summer when Hedy Chang, director of Attendance Works, joined our National Collaborative for Education and Health Metrics Working Group.
“It became clear in that working group that chronic absence, since it is comparatively easy data to obtain in a consistent manner across schools, districts and states, was an excellent source of data to help catalyze and inform collaboration between health providers and schools,” Chang says.
Absenteeism is a key early warning sign that students are academically at risk because they are missing too much time in the classroom. And that means keeping students healthy and in school is an important — and solvable — problem.
“Chronic absence is an issue that we can turn around if we work together to encourage students to come to school every day while also making sure we use data to identify and address barriers to getting to school,” Chang says.
Chang says that as schools improve their data systems, they now better understand that chronic absence is a major problem affecting far too many students’ academic achievement.
It’s because of that and the work of dedicated champions — at the local, state and national levels — that chronic absenteeism is gaining more attention. The U.S. Department of Education will soon announce a national chronic absenteeism effort to build support at the federal, state and local levels for efforts to address chronic absenteeism.
We’re grateful that the National Collaborative for Education and Health’s work to make the connection between health issues and chronic absenteeism is transforming into a national movement to ensure that students are in school and ready to learn. We look forward to continuing our work with Attendance Works and our other partners on this important issue.