Every Day Counts: School Attendance Strategies

By Heidi Arthur
September 2013, Volume 37, Issue 1

A seventh grader is too tired to go to school because she stays up late play­ing video games. A sixth grader convinces his mom to let him skip class because of problems with a school bully. An eighth grader’s family schedules a vacation to start two days before spring break begins. Whatever the reason, chronic absenteeism puts a child’s academic performance and high school graduation at greater risk. Educators need to make it clear to students and par­ents that every school day matters.

Chronic absenteeism, defined as missing at least 10 percent of school days in a given year, or about 18 days, affects the educational outcomes of nearly 7.5 million U.S. students. Being absent for just two days every month of the school year can allow a child to fall behind, increasing the likelihood of dropping out. Students with regular attendance are more likely to read well by the critical third-grade milestone, score higher on standardized tests, gradu­ate high school, and go to college than students who are chronically absent.

Effective Attendance Strategies

  • Communicate with parents. Research has shown that many parents fail to see a correlation between their child’s attendance prior to high school and the impact this behavior has on their futures. Educate parents and guardians on the consequences of long-term absenteeism in school with the August issue of Report to Parents.
  • Target messages to students, too. An attendance cal­culator, courtesy of Get Schooled (getschooled.com), can enable students to chart the impact of their absences on their educational futures. But students shouldn’t attend only because their academic success depends on it—school should be a place they want to go to every day. Get Schooled also offers celebrity wake-up calls from nota­ble actors, athletes, and musicians to get kids excited to attend.
  • Strengthen after-school programs. A report by the University of Minnesota found students in an after-school program attended 18 more days of school, and missed nine fewer than their peers. Every minute spent well outside school means more min­utes spent in school. Partner with your community to develop and strengthen these programs to ensure your students spend their time in fun and safe environments.

What your students do today will impact them for years to come. Through continued support and engagement of their parents, throughout the school year, prin­cipals can help ensure parents are aware of their child’s attendance. Together, principals and parents can inspire and motivate students so they will stay in school and graduate from high school.

Heidi Arthur is senior vice president and group campaign director of the Ad Council.

Adapted from Every School Day Counts, Principal, March/April 2013.

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