Successful schools begin by engaging students and making sure they come to school regularly. That may seem obvious. What’s less obvious is that the consequences of low attendance are serious for all children and for the community, not just the students who miss school.
School attendance data on GreatSchools.org, which comes from the state Department of Education, provides parents and the community baseline information on the quality of a school. You can locate each school’s attendance data on their GreatSchools.org school profile page in the Equity section, under Race/Ethnicity, then click on the Discipline & attendance tab. Here’s an example to check out in Temple, TX.
What does the attendance rate tell you about a school?
The attendance rate tells you the average percentage of students attending school each day in the given year, as reported by the state Department of Education. (Some states report this attendance rate as the percentage of students with unexcused absences.) You can also see the state average for the attendance rate and compare how your school stacks up. In some states, you will see the mobility rate (which means the percentage of students who transfer out of the school). Most schools have high attendance rates. If your school’s attendance rate is below the state average, the school may face challenges in getting students to come to school regularly. Ask the principal why the attendance rate is lower than the state average and what the school is doing to address this issue.
How important is attendance for your child?
The attendance rate is important because students are more likely to succeed in academics when they attend school consistently. It’s difficult for the teacher and the class to build their skills and progress if a large number of students are frequently absent. In addition to falling behind in academics, students who are not in school on a regular basis are more likely to get into trouble with the law and cause problems in their communities.
A 2019 report by physicians at Council on School Health published in Pediatrics states: “Chronic school absenteeism, starting as early as preschool and kindergarten, puts students at risk for poor school performance and school dropout.” An earlier 2008 study conducted by the Rodel Community Scholars at Arizona State University that tracked students from kindergarten through high school found the same pattern: high school dropout patterns were linked with poor attendance, beginning in kindergarten. Gregory Hickman, director of the Rodel Community Scholars program and former director of the Arizona Dropout Initiative, notes they discovered that as early as kindergarten, behavioral differences are apparent between children who go on to graduate and those who drop out, with dropouts missing an average of 124 days of school by eighth grade.
In their report, researchers wrote: “Educators should begin developing strategies to improve student attendance from as early as kindergarten.”
The U.S. Department of Education categorizes “chronic” absence as missing 15 or more days in a school year. Some organizations, researchers, and an increasing number of states define chronic as missing 10 percent of the school year (approximately 18 days). Estimates of the number of chronically absent students in the U.S. vary from 13 percent to 16 percent.
School budgets may suffer when students don’t attend. In many states, school budgets are based on the average daily attendance at a school. If many students enrolled at a school fail to consistently attend, the school has less money to pay for essential classroom needs.
How can schools increase their attendance rate?
According to the National Center for Student Engagement, schools are most effective in achieving high attendance rates when parents, school leaders, and community members work together to focus on reducing absences and truancy, and keeping kids in schools. The center provides 10 tips for schools and communities to improve their attendance rates. Among them:
- Make the school a place where parents/guardians and students feel welcome and respected. Create an environment that enables students to feel successful in something — no matter how small.
- Reward and recognize good attendance (not just “perfect” attendance).
- Forge a relationship with local businesses so that they cooperate in encouraging students to go to school and not congregate at businesses during school hours.
- Ask teachers to phone parents when their children are not in school to let them know the school is concerned.
- Talk to students about why they were gone and let them know they were missed.
What other factors should you consider when evaluating your school?
The attendance rate is just one factor to consider when sizing up your school. You’ll want to look at the test scores, student-teacher ratio, parent reviews, and other data that you can find on GreatSchools.org. You’ll also want to find out more about the school climate, quality of school leadership, parent involvement, and other factors that aren’t apparent from school data.
Questions parents should ask
If you are concerned about the attendance rate at your school, here are some questions you might ask your principal and your school site council:
- Does the school provide a welcoming atmosphere for students and parents?
- Do students feel safe at school?
- What actions does the school take to follow up on students who are absent?
- Do teachers call parents when students are frequently absent?
- Does the school know why students are absent? The school cannot address the problem if administrators don’t understand the causes.
- Has the school taken steps to forge a positive relationship with local business and community members to work together to encourage students to come to school?
- Does the school reward students for good attendance?
- What can parents do to help the school encourage all students to attend?