Attendance: A Measure of School Success

by Jeff Camp | October 17, 2016 | 3 Comments
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It may seem a bit like stating the obvious, but children who show up for school do a lot better than children who don’t.


The surprise is just how few absences it takes to make a difference. Missing just two days of school in a month is a warning sign for academic trouble. Do the math. Two days in a month translates into about 10 per cent of school days missed -- the equivalent of a little over 15 days a year.

A BIG problem

Nationwide more than 6.5 million students – or 13% of all students – are chronically absent. More than half of those chronically absent students are in elementary or middle school. 

Does your school have a chronic absence problem? You might be tempted to think not. According to a 2016 report, Preventing Missed Opportunity, "half of the nation's chronically absent students are concentrated in just 4 percent of its districts."

Savvy schools and communities treat school absences like a "bat signal." Missing school is a sign of serious trouble.

Complacency is a bad plan for this serious issue. The same report found that “Nine out of 10 U.S. school districts experience some level of chronic absenteeism." Missing school is a major warning signal for all kinds of trouble. Savvy schools and communities treat absences like a "bat signal". When schools effectively interrupt patterns of absenteeism, they may be able to detect, interrupt and prevent serious issues.

How Laws Treat Chronic Absences

America's main federal education law, the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), underscores the critical link between chronic absence and student success. Among other things, it requires states to report chronic absence rates for their schools. In California, chronic absence is one of the key elements of the accountability system that evaluates schools and districts.

Only a handful of states, notably including Texas and California, allocate dollars to school districts based on the average number of students who attend school. (This approach is known as average daily attendance, or ADA.) Advocates of ADA-based funding argue that it creates an incentive for districts to invest in measures to get all kids to school — even the ones that are behind or hard to teach. Critics argue that this incentive is ineffective and unnecessary, and that in effect it penalizes schools that need it most. There is no persuasive evidence that attendance rates are higher in states using ADA-based funding.

Virtual Attendance

The COVID-19 pandemic required California to re-think what attendance really means. The state temporarily waived roll-call requirements. School districts received funding on the basis of enrollment.

What you can do

The Ed100 Parent Leader Guide on Attendance and School Climate makes it easy for you to help parents at your school understand the importance of attendance, and do something about it.

It’s all here: Lessons, sample email invitations, discussion prompts, and resources including handouts and additional reading.  Suggestions for Taking Action include:

  • Ask your district leaders: is there a plan to review policies about school climate, including attendance, chronic absences, and school discipline? How can parents add their voice?
  • What measurement is your school district using related to school climate for its LCAP report? How are the measurements collected? Is the district using the California Healthy Kids Survey? (In English and Spanish.) Where are the results shared?

The organization Attendance Works is strongly focused on the problems of absenteeism and what to do about it. Here's an example of the kind of resources they can provide:

How is your school improving attendance? Leave a comment below.

Questions & Comments

To comment or reply, please sign in .

user avatar
Ken R May 8, 2018 at 3:59 pm
Consistent attendance and punctuality is a necessity for ALL students to set a pattern for the future
user avatar
Vishnu Mohan April 23, 2018 at 2:05 am
School attendance is a top priority of all school.implementing a school management system like can have a significant impact on school attendance. a school management system can help schools to easily manage, monitor and record school attendance.
user avatar
Carol Kocivar July 16, 2017 at 5:21 pm
A great resource for schools and parents:
"Teaching Attendance 2.0 is filled with free, ready-to-use resources for everyone who understands that helping students get to school every day enhances the ability of teachers to teach more effectively" from AttendanceWorks
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