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Why Measuring Attendance Isn’t as Simple as it Sounds

Michael Nutter

January 17, 2018

It seems simple enough: kids can’t get the most out of their education if they’re not in school. But districts have been neglecting a key part of the chronic absensentee problem.

Practically every educator is aware of how important attendance is to academic performance, so it only makes sense that districts would use it to evaluate K-12 students as they progress through their academic careers. But while average daily attendance rates can be informative, they don’t tell the whole story.

One significant weakness of attendance rates as a metric is that they don’t follow individual student attendance, which can be a huge predictor of future success. Chronic absenteeism is defined as a student missing more than 10% of the school year — roughly two days per month. More than five million students per year in the U.S. are chronically absent, and because of the way they measure absenteeism, too many school districts don’t have the necessary data to intervene.

Why Chronic Absenteeism?

Data on pupil-by-pupil attendance helps predict and monitor the students who are most at risk of struggling academically. One study found that ninth grade attendance was a stronger predictor than any other factor for which students would graduate high school — an insight that just can’t be gleaned from average daily attendance data.

That isn’t to say that attendance is the only factor that correlates with student success, but educators should put a heavy emphasis on it alongside other metrics. Other research has found that measuring chronic absenteeism in addition to test scores, graduation rates, and other variables that are typically tracked across school districts can paint a much more complete picture of student success than daily attendance rates alone.

Change in Action

Districts such as Michigan’s Grand Rapids Public Schools that have begun thinking more critically about how they measure attendance are already seeing improved results. After distributing chronic absenteeism data to schools, local businesses, and even churches, the community and local government in Grand Rapids decided it was time to act.

Teachers and officials created resources for parents that, among other things, allowed them to more actively participate in their child’s education. What’s more, classes were expanded to offer lessons on immigration and computer skills, tutor assistance with math homework, and much more. The results were astounding: the district saw a drop of 3,600 chronically absent students over the course of just three years.

Resources for Intervention

There are a variety of reasons for why students may be chronically absent, including lack of transportation, homelessness, and illness or substance abuse in the family. But with the proper data, state and local organizations can tackle these problems head-on.

From simple solutions, like sending personal reminders to parents and students about attendance, to more complex ones, like developing task forces specifically targeting chronic absenteeism, there are many ways that schools can take action to keep students on track. Integrating community resources is also crucial: social workers, mental health centers, and public transportation are just a few of the many important tools districts can leverage to keep students engaged and in school.

The Power of Data

The key takeaway from all this is that chronic absenteeism data is incredibly useful. It’s clearly measurable, it solves a huge problem facing practically every state school system, and it’s directly correlated with student achievement.

Rates of chronic absenteeism differ greatly between districts in a given state, which means that educators must be prepared to tailor their approach to the issue to their student body’s specific demographics and behavioral trends. But as Grand Rapids has shown us, a customized strategy can prove successful in identifying and reducing absenteeism.

Your district’s student data holds the key to improving attendance, and with it, student performance and preparedness for higher learning and a career. That’s why you need tools that let you easily navigate, interpret, and validate important metrics like chronic absenteeism. Our powerful CheckPoint EMIS platform helps school districts keep track of all of their vital data — including attendance — and derive insights from the information at their disposal. However you decide to tackle the problem of absenteeism in your district, Vinson can provide the resources you need to execute your strategy and keep kids in the classroom.

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