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3 Ways to Treat Chronic Absenteeism 3 Ways to Treat Chronic Absenteeism

3 Ways to Treat Chronic Absenteeism

by Leslie Strong
Leslie Strong Leslie Strong Product Line Manager
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Here’s a riddle for you. Name something that plagues 5 to 7.5 million U.S. students from preschool to graduation. It frequently goes undiagnosed, but treatment makes our schools better and improves a student’s likelihood of having a successful future.

If you said chronic absenteeism, you are correct. This epidemic is affecting student performance, dropout rates, and funding in schools throughout the country.

But you can take steps to reverse the trend. Let’s find out what counts as “chronic” absence and what you can do to prevent it from infecting your school.

The Definition

Chronic absenteeism /[kron-ik ab-suh n-tee-iz-uh m]/ noun:

1. Missing at least 10-20% of school days per year
2. Missing 18-36 days in a 180-day school calendar

So what does “missing a day” really mean? Any absence, excused or unexcused, counts toward chronic absenteeism, since the focus is on instructional time missed, not on rules broken. Sickness? Suspension? Extended spring break? It all counts – and it adds up fast. Without an intentional effort, we might fail to notice chronic absence. A student’s desk doesn’t need to be empty for 2 straight weeks – all it takes is 2 days each month.  

The Numbers

Why is it such a big deal to miss a few days here and there? Let’s start with some numbers:

2: The number of days missed per month that will begin to negatively affect student performance, according to research by Attendance Works. As mentioned above, 2 is also the number of days missed per month that constitutes chronic absence.

7.4: The number of times more likely students are to drop out of school if they are chronically absent, according to researchers at the University of Utah.

17: Percentage of students who were chronically absent as kindergartners and 1st graders who were proficient readers by the end of 3rd grade, according to this research brief. Compare this number to the 64% of their peers who attended regularly and became proficient readers in the same amount of time.

22.3: Millions of dollars Houston Independent School District loses annually for every 1% reduction in Average Daily Attendance (ADA) – a statistic closely mirrored in other districts with funding tied to ADA.

The Steps

It’s not tough logic: more students in class leads to more funding, fewer dropouts, and better schools. Here are three steps you can take to tackle chronic absenteeism head-on:

Make technology work for you: Do you know how many of your "absentees" are actually present? There are millions of dollars in funding left on the table every year due to human error and outdated technology. The first step to boosting your attendance is getting better at tracking it accurately, but the function of technology goes beyond just a roll call.

The best attendance systems do more than generate blemishes on student attendance records. Do you have automated messaging that lets parents know when their kids don’t show up to class? What about an attendance entry method that reduces the chance for error? Can your students take on the responsibility of checking into class themselves, thus taking attendance off of the teacher's plate altogether?

If your school funding is tied to attendance, it’s more important than ever that your attendance tools help you avoid mistakes, save time, and provide actionable and accurate data. The right system should enhance your ability to communicate effectively with parents, and it might even influence students to be present more often by making school a less rigid environment.

Meet students’ needs: Some absences are unavoidable, but you can reduce the unnecessary ones by making school the place that best meets students’ needs. Make sure your staff knows what to do when they suspect a student’s basic health and safety needs aren’t being met, and keep track of office visits so you can notice patterns early.

With the basics taken care of, you can turn your attention to what kids are craving: belonging, achievement, and growth. A culture in which students take charge of their own education can have a huge effect on motivation. Personalized learning helps students feel excited about school and take ownership of the learning process. When school is fun and fulfilling, it’s not as hard to show up.

In recent years, we've seen a significant uptick in non-traditional attendance methods to support a future-ready learning environment. If you haven't heard of Positive Attendance already, watch this video to hear how a small change in one period every day can change the way your high school approaches personalized learning.

Explore partnership opportunities: There isn’t a perfect remedy for chronic absenteeism, but partnerships can come close. School, family, and community collaboration can bring about creative solutions. Folks in Springfield, Massachusetts, created a walking school bus that brings police officers, parents, and teachers together to pick up kids along five different routes to school. This simple solution doesn’t just help kids get to school safely, but it also encourages healthy habits and builds community connections.
Another creative partnership, the MBK Success Mentors Initiative, is a nationwide effort that uses evidence-based practices to reduce chronic absenteeism. Mentors encourage attendance, help students learn to problem solve, and connect them to appropriate resources. Think you don’t have enough qualified people to serve as mentors? Think again – according to this Fact Sheet, mentors can include coaches, administrative staff, teachers, security guards, AmeriCorps members, tutors, and after-school providers, among others.


The first step toward improving student achievement is getting the kids to show up. Take on chronic absenteeism by meeting students’ needs at all levels, forging partnerships, and making attendance work for you.

Does your attendance solution help decrease chronic absenteeism? Check out Skyward’s Attendance Tools or contact us today to find out how something as basic as taking attendance can have a transformative effect on your school.


Leslie Strong Leslie Strong Product Line Manager
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