Although teacher effectiveness is the number one predictor of student achievement, teachers cannot teach students who are not present. Poor attendance, especially at the beginning of a student’s academic career, is a predictor of lower achievement in reading, math, and general knowledge as well as high school dropout rates. All students who miss school, regardless of socio-economic group, score lower than their peers on the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), the “nation’s report card” which measures American student’s progress in core subjects. According to a 2014 study by Attendance Works entitled Absences Add-Up: How School Attendance Influences Student Success, 5 to 7.5 million US students miss a month of school each year. This lost time is very hard to make up and districts spend a considerable amount of time developing and implementing intervention programs to help students who fall behind to catch up. Children can suffer academically if they miss 10 percent of the school year or about 18 days. That can be just one day every two weeks, oftentimes parents do not consider this a significant loss of school time, but over time it adds up. Chronic absenteeism in kindergarten impacts whether a child develops the grit and perseverance needed to be successful in school. Absenteeism in preschool and kindergarten is also an indicator as to whether a child will be held back in third grade. Of course some absences can’t be avoided. School administrators and teachers understand that children will get sick and need to stay home occasionally. The important thing is that children get to school as often as possible. When excused or unexcused absences occur they are still detrimental to a student’s progress because they represent time spent out of the classroom instead of learning.
The fact of the matter is that when students reduce absences, they can make academic growth. One essential strategy for reducing achievement gaps is increasing student attendance. Students who attend school regularly are more likely to graduate high school, college, and graduate school and more likely to find good jobs or fulfilling careers. Research shows that a high school graduate makes, on average, a million dollars more than a dropout over a lifetime, and a college graduate makes one to three million dollars more on average than a high school graduate over a lifetime. Attendance counts.
At Van Allen Elementary, I have made some changes this year related to our perfect attendance criteria because I feel passionately about attendance. Families are now aware that perfect attendance means that students are in their seats every minute of every day, with no exceptions. We have instituted an attendance incentive program so that students who achieve perfect attendance during the course of a month can enter to win a Kindle Fire every single month of the school year. The importance of good attendance is emphasized during assemblies, weekly Monday night messages, Friday morning announcements to the student body, on our school website, and as a topic of discussion during daily contact with families at the Van Allen office. We also carefully review attendance on a monthly basis so that we can make referrals to the Student Attendance Review Board (SARB) when simple written reminders and informal communication do not elicit an improvement in attendance. In spite of constant communication and clear expectations, families continue to pull students out of school for events that can be scheduled outside of the school day such as routine doctor or dentist appointments, and/or family outings that can be scheduled during school recesses or summer break.
According to the California Department of Education, there are 54,000 instructional minutes required for students in fourth through eighth grades. This works out to 300 minutes per day for each of the 180 days of the school year. Snack and lunch recess are not factored into instructional minutes. Missing only three days equates to 900 minutes in lost learning. Lost learning means gaps in student understanding of crucial concepts essential for academic success.
If there were one piece of advice I would give to all of our wonderful Escalon families aside from reading daily, it would be for them to send their kids to school to benefit from learning each and every minute of every school day.
For more information about the importance of attendance on your child’s academic achievement please visit: http://www.attendanceworks.org/
Principally Speaking is a monthly article, contributed by principals from Escalon Unified School District sites, throughout the school year. It is designed to update the community on school events and activities.