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  • Tony Wold, Ed.D.

The “New Normal” in School Attendance Part 3: The Real Cost of Excessive Absences

As we have seen from all the media coverage of the attendance crisis it is time for LEAs to take action. With the number of staffing shortages and declining resources coupled with increased student Social and Emotional Learning needs, most LEAs are strapped to provide the basic support systems. Albert Einstein is famously remembered for describing insanity as “doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result.” This is directly related to attendance and the correlation to academic achievement.

I have been blessed in my professional career to have served in many diverse school districts and primarily I have worked in school districts that had large percentages of English language learners and students who qualified for Free and Reduced-price meals. I quickly learned that we had to do more to maintain parent engagement as many families struggled to meet daily needs and were unavailable during the times that schools schedule events for parents. To address this disjoint and work to level the playing field, it became evident that we need to communicate more directly to these families in their primary language with materials that are engaging to both the adult and student.

When I am discussing attendance practices and hosting seminars one of the questions, I ask attendees is how many of them have children of their own. Then we ask:

“How did YOU and YOUR children know what was needed to be done to prepare for entering kindergarten, middle school, and high school”

The answers are usually similar:

  • “I was in the system, so I just knew;”

  • “I got books and read everything I needed to know;”

  • “I talked with the school and my colleagues on the areas I needed to know;” or

  • “I didn’t!”

The follow-up is “How many of you serve at-risk populations of over 50%?”

The rhetorical follow-up question is then “How did those families know?”

Title I ("Title One"), which is a provision of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act passed in 1965 under President Lyndon Baines Johnson, is a program created by the U.S. Department of Education to distribute funding to schools and school districts with a high percentage of students from low-income families, with the intention to create programs that will better children who have special needs that, without funding, could not be properly supported.

Billions of dollars are provided through Title I with the goal of leveling the playing field and providing resources to those students who do not otherwise have the same advantages as others. In Title I, there is even a requirement that 10% of the funds be spent on parent education and engagement. This was enacted because it was clear that the school alone cannot change the course for a student and that the family needs to be involved. Involvement does not have to be physical for families to be trained and provided support, which is a foundation of why the SI&A approach is reaching the home and working to restore attendance habits.

As we look forward to 2023, we know a couple of certain facts.

  1. The average 3rd grader has not had a full school year that was not impacted by the pandemic.

  2. More than 30% of all 3rd graders have chronic absenteeism issues

  3. From sampling, approximately 65% of students who were chronic this year were in the past year as well.

  4. Chronic absenteeism is defined as missing 10% of the school year (18 days), with severe chronic students missing 27 or more days.

  5. While the average student was missing 14 – 16 days the past two years, our chronic students were missing 3 to 5 (42 – 80+ days) times the amount.

  6. A consistently chronic/severe 3rd-grade student will have missed conservatively at least 168 days of school by June 2023.

  7. This is almost 1 full year of school at the most critical early literacy benchmark year.

The exact same exercise could be done for students who are in 12th grade or finishing middle school as well with similar but developmentally different consequences. The reality is that missing school has long-term consequences. In addition to achievement, the earning potential difference between students who graduate high school and college and those that do not has now reached well over $1 million lost. That lost income changes the quality of life and the economic situation of the communities that these students will ultimately live in. The consequences of a reduced workforce impact pensions for today's workers, governmental services for all, and of course the ability of the parent to be available to support the next generation of students.

We believe that all LEAs should review their current information and understand the impact of lower ADA as it impacts:

  • Academic Achievement – As students cross double digits, achievement also changes, and previous A and B students become C or D as they struggle to catch up

  • Financial Impact – The 3-year averaging does not reduce the impact of lower ADA; it just spreads it out.

It is not too late to begin the implementation of an attendance support system. In fact, integrating an Attendance Management System now mid-year will ensure that the foundation is laid, and the services are in place in time for the upcoming school year. As an educator, father, and citizen the overwhelming information about the impact chronic absenteeism is having and will have in the future compels me to want to act.

Hillary Clinton memorably focused, “It takes a village to raise a child.” Nothing could be more accurate and the first step to investing in our children is to invest in their entire family. I encourage anyone reading this to pick up the phone and call us at SI&A or send an email so that together we can work to rebuild attendance habits and bring our focus to the academic achievement of all of our students.

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