CICF News / 2012 / August / News Post
August 14, 2012
Absence Makes The Graduation Rate Go Downward

When staff at Arlington Community High School realized that Christian Dieker was showing up to school – but not to all of his classes – they notified his parents. Christian’s father and stepmother came to the school, discussed the situation with their son and made it clear that he needed to be at school and to graduate. But, unlike many parents facing similar challenges with their teen, the Diekers were not alone in working with Christian to improve his attendance. At Arlington, the Diekers and Christian found additional support with the school’s attendance team.

The Missing School Matters campaign offers parents, communities, schools and policy makers suggestions on addressing chronic absenteeism and improving results for youth.

Arlington, along with eight other Indianapolis Public Schools, was awarded a grant from the Indiana Partnerships Center to create “attendance teams”: groups of social workers, guidance counselors, administrators and other school staff who help students and parents commit to improved attendance. Those teams also commit the results that attendance supports including better academic performance and increased graduation rates. The grants were funded by the Central Indiana Community Foundation.

For the Diekers, partnering with the school staff and having a team of adults who check in with students made a big difference. Suzanne Dieker, Christian’s stepmother, reports that the support and communication offered by Arlington staff provided Christian with consistent reminders to “stay on course”.

Staying on course and coming to school regularly are correlated with higher test scores and increased graduation rates. More than 55,000 students in Indiana are chronically absent from school each year, missing 18 or more days of class. With 180 days in the academic calendar, these students lose out on at least one-tenth of classroom instruction. And the impact of that loss can reduce their long-term educational outcomes, according to a recent study initiated by the Indiana Partnerships Center and conducted by the Center for Evaluation and Education Policy at Indiana University.

Attendance = Achievement

The study, “Chronic Absenteeism: Missing School Matters”, uses data from two groups of Hoosier students, one set each of Kindergarteners and 6th graders. The study follows their educational achievement and outcomes for six years, beginning with the 2003-2004 school year. Currently, schools are only required to measure average daily attendance, which means there have been little data and limited accountability for the impact of absence on individual student achievement until this study.

The new data reveals that chronic absenteeism has an impact at nearly every level of school. By third grade, children who are frequently absent scored nearly 50 points lower in math and 40 points lower in reading on tests than students with regular attendance. Students who are chronically absent through middle school scored 70 points lower in math and 35 points lower in English and language arts. Worse, only one quarter of chronically absent high school students in the study graduated.


Empty Desks
Schools utilize a range of approaches, from incentives to individualized student attendance plans, to address chronic absenteeism.
Photo credit: Max Klingensmith
/Creative Commons

Schools Step Up

At the nine schools that received grants for attendance teams, staff members have used a variety of approaches to help parents and students understand the value of simply showing up to class. At Shortridge Magnet High School, students with improved or perfect attendance and their parents attended a banquet, where they received passes to restaurants, movies and sports events. Parents at Arsenal Technical High School learned to use computers to monitor their children’s attendance, grades and assignments. Teachers at Crispus Attucks Medical Magnet School called parents each time a student missed class.

While these school-level efforts have demonstrated initial success, the Indiana Partnerships Center is also calling for statewide reform of how attendance is measured and monitored. The organization has developed several key recommendations:

  • Make districts track chronic absenteeism as a key indicator of success
  • Distinguish between truancy and chronic absences, which can include both sick days and unexplained absences
  • Include days that a student is suspended as absences
  • Develop consistent definitions of excused and unexcused absences across school districts
  • Launch an education campaign to publicize the link between absenteeism and achievement and drop-out rates

While policy recommendations focus on improving accountability and attention around attendance, parents and students remain at the center of efforts to decrease absenteeism.

“Students and parents need to know the serious consequences that frequent absences have on the students’ future,” says Jacqueline Garvey, Executive Director of The Indiana Partnerships Center. “Missing school matters.”

More about CICF's College Readiness and Success Initiative.

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