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How to Take a Proactive Approach to Attendance


Decades of research show a direct correlation between attendance and academic performance. Students with poor attendance typically start to suffer in reading ability by the end of second grade, start failing entire subjects by sixth grade and become dropout risks by high school.


Chronic absenteeism is defined as missing 10% of school days yearly, or approximately 18 days a year. Based on 2020-21 NCES data, 17% of students in the United States are chronically absent from school. Frequently, chronic absenteeism goes unnoticed because schools count only how many students show up each day rather than examining which students miss so much school that they are falling behind.


Furthermore, measuring average daily attendance (ADA) can be misleading, with even high-achieving schools hiding potentially impactful absenteeism. Research shows that schools with ADA rates between 93% and 97% may have chronic absenteeism issues, and those with ADA below 93% are likely to have high concentrations of absenteeism.


Underlying reasons for poor attendance can be grouped into three categories:

  • Barriers to Attendance - Barriers that directly hinder a student’s ability to attend school include illness, environmental or community factors like transportation, trauma, and homelessness.

  • Aversions to School - Things at school that might cause a student to avoid attending include academic struggles, social struggles, ineffective discipline, and a poor or unsafe school environment.

  • Disengagement with School - Factors that cause students to not see the value in school include lack of engaging instruction or mentor relationships, peer pressure outside of school, or a parent’s negative school experience or lack of value for attendance.

Addressing these challenges starts with a support framework that brings together the community, staff, parents, and students and introduces targeted support measures. This approach encourages schools to set clear goals and address challenges directly, supporting students by focusing on the reasons behind absenteeism.


Attitudes and Attendance

A student’s attitude toward attendance is highly correlated to their future attendance. When we look at the reasons for absenteeism, both aversions and disengagement relate to the student’s attitudes to themselves as a learner and their school. Therefore, proactively monitoring these attitudes can reduce the risk of truancy by supporting students before they fall off track.

ReactiveMost schools take a reactive approach to attendance. They look at which students are highly or chronically absent and then try to draw them back into school. This method is extremely time and resources costly; it is also ineffective for many students because it happens too late.ProactiveWhen taking a proactive approach, the first step in supporting students is identifying those with poor attitudes to attendance. By doing so at the beginning of the academic year, schools can work towards preventing truancy using low-cost, low-touch interventions.

Intervention Strategies


To address the three areas outlined above, intervention strategies should be developed and implemented that support all students. These include:


Addressing Barriers to School


Many external factors that contribute to students missing school may be seen as outside of the school’s control, such as health, transportation, trauma, or family obligations. However, when teachers, school administrators, parents, health officials, and community members all join forces to address these barriers, students are more likely to gain access to support, benefiting them both at school and home.


Addressing Aversion to School


Several barriers within the school environment can deter children from attending school, including feelings of failure, low self-esteem, and threatening policies. Effective interventions should help to identify the reasons students avoid school and find ways to encourage positive associations.


Addressing Disengagement with School


Many students do not attend school because they do not see the value or purpose of them being there, often because they are not appropriately challenged, do not associate learning with joy, do not feel personally invested in the material, or they simply believe that they can achieve their life goals without an education. It is important to select interventions that will support students to become more engaged at school and thus increase attendance rates.


Leveraging a Universal Screener to Support Your Students


Because attitudes toward attendance are one of the best early predictors of truancy issues, implementing a universal screener can be a game changer. Schools and districts that use a universal screener can:

  • Highlight students who are at risk of absenteeism

  • Uncover insights into why a student feels adverse or disengaged with school

  • Measure the impact of the interventions they have used to prevent absenteeism

If you’re interested in learning how PASS can support your efforts to address chronic absenteeism and identify students at risk of poor attendance, schedule a demo with a member of our team.


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