Author’s Note: September is Attendance Awareness Month
Attendance is to school what rebounding is to basketball—it is hard work, requires effort and persistence, and it often goes unrewarded and unrecognized, but schools cannot be successful without it. Improving school attendance is a matter of will. It requires a multi-pronged effort over several years to break the culturally supported cycle. Even the best schools have a significant number of students who are chronically absent.
Good school attendance, particularly in high-needs schools is more about attracting students than about promoting attendance. While having the right attendance laws and procedures in place are important in the short-run. In the long-run, a school must create a safe, orderly, and student-centered school culture that attracted students.
Our school had to become a place where students felt wanted and where they wanted to be.
We had to be a school in which every student expected to succeed every day.
We had to be the kind of school in which each and every student was both known and valued.
We had to be the kind of school that students wanted to attend and hated to leave.
We had to be a school that had to work to get students to leave the building at the end of the day, not one that had to work to get students to attend.
To be that school, we had to provide a safe, clean, orderly, warm and inviting school environment built on quality relationships. In addition, we had to create a culture of success in which students came to school expecting to succeed while knowing that their teachers would not stand bye and allow them to fail.
We learned from experience that when kids miss school they miss out, and when kids miss out, we all suffer. In our school, attendance, along with school wide literacy, was a priority. We served large numbers of under-resourced students who needed extra support and encouragement in order to attend school on a regular basis.
USA Today reports that research suggests that as many as 7.5 million students miss a month of school each year, raising the likelihood that they'll fail academically and eventually drop out of high school.
Based on my experience as a school leader in a career that spanned four different decades:
I agree that attendance is a key to student success and school effectiveness.
If students refuse to attend, we have no chance of raising achievement.
I have never found a high-performing school that had poor student attendance.
Attendance is not a rural or urban problem.
Balfanz provides school leaders with high-leverage research because it is both timely and it is relevant to our daily practice.
Regular school attendance is so fundamental and so basic that we often incorrectly assume that it is being adequately addressed.
Attendance is to school what rebounding is to basketball—it is hard work, requires effort and persistence, and it often goes unrewarded and unrecognized, but schools cannot be successful without it.
Attendance is a key indicator of school personalization. Students will attend schools that are 1) safe and orderly, 2) welcoming and inviting, and 3) success-oriented. If students feel comfortable and secure, they will attend. If students feel wanted, they will attend. If students can say “in this school, it’s hard to fail. The teachers won’t let you fail. They won’t give up on you,” they will attend.
In fact, from experience, I know, that not only will the students attend, but you will develop what I refer to as a “problem of success.” Where you previously heard complaints that students never come to class, you will begin to hear complaints that the students won’t leave the building at the end of the school day.
What School Leaders Need to Know About Absenteeism
Balfanz’s research indicates that students who miss 10% or more of school are on-target to drop out.
Create a safe, orderly, and inviting school environment that supports learning, encourages attendance, and promotes positive student behavior.
Poor attendance “costs schools money” in the form of lost state aid.
Even schools with good attendance--“95 percent average daily attendance is typically considered good”—could have a significant number of students who miss more than 10% of the days.
“Think about it like this: If you had 100 students in your school, and 95 percent showed up every day, you’d still have five absences a day. That’s 900 absences over the course of the 180-day school year, and that could mean as many as 45 kids missing 20 days of school.”
Action Steps for School Leaders
Know your school’s attendance rate by year, by month, by grade, by ethnicity, and by gender.
Develop a list of chronically absent (10% or greater) students and keep the list up-to-date. Review the list at every staff meeting.
Involve parents. Require chronically absent students to attend a parent conference each time the student is absent without a doctor’s note.
Use your roto-dialer or auto-call system to make wake-up calls each morning to your poor attenders.
Instead of suspending students for truancy consider an in-school alternative.
Show that you truly value instruction and learning by limiting interruptions and out-of-class time like assemblies, pep rallies, and field trips.
Because student attendance correlates highly with teacher attendance, stop taking teachers out of school during the school day for professional development. It sends everyone a message that school is not important.
The Bottom Line for School Leaders
Students will attend school when they feel wanted and when they believe that they can succeed. Most importantly, school leaders must build a culture in which all students are known, valued, and expected to succeed.
In Tap, Click, Read: Growing Readers in a World of Screens, Lisa Guernsey and Michael H. Levine challenge even the basic idea that "screen time" is a helpful measure, since what's on the screen, they say, matters more than whether the screen is on.
During a 1959 television appearance, Jack Kerouac was asked how long it took him to write his novel On The Road. His response – three weeks – amazed the interviewer and ignited an enduring myth that the book was composed in a marathon of nonstop typing.
"Despite the proven connection between positive relationships and student achievement, some discount relationship building in middle grades and high schools as a bunch of "fluff" more appropriate for the elementary school.
For middle grades kids who are trying to gain some independence and figure out which way is up, relationships with classmates and teachers are crucial to success. I offer seven relationship-based strategies that can transform your classroom into a positive learning environment."
'This is more than just an unfortunate trend. When our brightest young college graduates, especially those who reflect the increasing diversity found in our public schools, eschew teaching we need to ask why.'
In writing about “math trauma,” I don’t in any way mean to trivialize trauma or its devastating effects. But I think mathematics expert Jo Boaler is right that the humiliation and shame that many of us have experienced in regard to school math does constitute a kind of trauma, one that often produces a lifelong aversion to and avoidance of the subject.
As always, I’d love to hear your perspective.—Annie
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The pendulum of American public education policy is swinging back, away from the stiff reform agenda of the past decade and a half. And the reformers themselves bear a share of the responsibility for the backlash. The No Child Left Behind Act, passed by Congress in 2001, will no doubt be remembered as one of the worst-constructed laws of the century. Instead of holding schools accountable by carefully measuring their improvement and creating mechanisms for change, it measured how many students h
"Jo Boaler has heard many, many stories like this one. She is a professor education at Stanford University and the author of a new book, Mathematical Mindsets. I heard Jo speak at Stanford last week and was so impressed, and even touched, by what she had to say about the destructive way we teach math and the harm it wreaks on students.
Here, I highlight several of my favorite passages from the book’s early chapters. I can’t recommend Mathematical Mindsets highly enough; read it, and tell others about it! They likely experienced math trauma too.
Three practical, research-based suggestions for one of the most effective and important things school leaders can do.
"Researchers have found that a positive school climate can help solve a lot of those problems. Studies find that it decreases absenteeism, suspensions, substance abuse, and bullying, and increases students’ academic achievement, motivation to learn, and psychological well-being. It can even mitigate the negative effects of self-criticism and socioeconomic status on academic success. In addition, working in this kind of climate lessens teacher burnout while increasing retention. All really good stuff!"
Stanford psychology professor Carol Dweck has become something of a cult figure in education and parenting circles. Her research into boosting student motivation has spawned a mini industry of consultants, sold more than a million books and changed the way that many adults praise children. Dweck believes too many students are hobbled by the belief that intelligence …
The compromise agreed to by a congressional conference committee is, in many key ways, a U-turn from the much-maligned No Child Left Behind Act.
States would still have to test students in reading and math in grades 3 through 8 and once in high school, and break out the data for whole schools, plus different "subgroups" of students (English-learners, students in special education, racial minorities, those in poverty.)
Sending kids out of class or out of school doesn’t set them up to be successful when they return and knocks them further down the ladder they are trying to climb, high school teacher Joanna Schimizzi says, offering a different approach.
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