September is Attendance Awareness Month, but as the start of a new school year fast approaches now is a good time to pay some extra attention to school attendance.

The district’s attendance benchmark is 95%, a worthy goal. And by that measure last year was a good one, overall. The districtwide attendance average came in at 95.54%. But that lofty number masks some concerning ones.

In 2016-17, 12 district schools reported double-digit rates of chronic absenteeism, defined as missing two or more days, or 10%, a month. Put another way, a student could be present 90% of the time and still be considered chronically absent. If that standard sounds too severe, consider:

  • Students chronically absent in grades K-3 are much less likely to read at grade level by 3rd grade. You’ve got to learn to read by 3rd grade so you can read to learn thereafter.
  • Students with high test scores who miss two or more weeks of school per semester are more likely to fail than students with low test scores who miss a week or less.
  • Missing one day per week in grades K-4 is the equivalent of missing an entire school year by the time you start 5th grade.

Here’s an illustration of that last bullet point:

When Alayna Buchanan finished 5th grade at Phillips Elementary last spring she received her sixth consecutive medal for a year of perfect attendance. That’s right. She didn’t miss a single day of school, K-5 grade. Besides six medals, though, she got more than a whole extra year of education compared to a student her age who missed a day per week. If she keeps it up all the way through high school, chalk up another year+. Those medals are bound someday for a box in an attic, but those extra years of education will always be with Alayna.

Obviously, no student can compile a spotless attendance record without lots of support and good fortune in addition to personal determination. But it’s also true that obstacles to school attendance faced by many students can be overcome if getting to school however/whenever possible becomes the top priority that it ought to be. Raised consciousness of the cumulative effects of chronic absence can lead to formulation of support systems and contingency plans that will enable kids to get to school in the event of car breakdowns, parental illness, altered work schedules and other unforeseen complications.

Over the course of a year, little bits add up to a lot. It’s one thing if a student is occasionally a few minutes late, but if tardiness is routine it adds up to multiple days missed without even being counted absent.

The problem isn’t limited to traditional truancy. Excused absences too can become problematic in combination with unexcused ones. There can be an unconscious tendency on the part of parents to believe that time missed at school due to doctor appointments and family vacations is inconsequential.

“It’s great that on an average day less than five percent of district students are absent,” said DMPS Learning Services Coordinator Jamie Gilley. “But we need to focus on how many within that small fraction are chronic absentees and address the reasons why.”

So don’t wait until September to consider the critical importance of attendance. Give it some attention now, before school resumes, and commit to ensuring that your student(s) get an ‘A’ in the one subject where all you have to do is show up to get the credit.

If you aren’t there, you may never know what you missed.

Click here for more information on the scope of the problem and what the district is doing to address it.

Attendance Works is another resource to help parents strategize and prioritize. Click here to learn more.

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