Attendance & Why It Matters

by California State PTA Family Engagement Commissioner, Shannon Jaeger

Family Engagement Friday for September 2022

As we start off another school year, we know that local PTA leaders are excited to see students returning and eager to welcome parents and students alike to the school campus and all that it entails. After some difficult times, we start this school year with renewed optimism, hopeful we will all have a healthy and successful year.

One critical ingredient for realizing that hope is good student attendance.  Attendance Works, a national nonprofit organization, cites extensive research documenting the connection between student attendance and success.

We all know that sometimes circumstances are beyond a family’s control, but your PTA can encourage families to do all they can to make regular school attendance a top priority every day.

Keeping Count of Attendance is Important

The Attendance Ladder shown here is an image you can share to help families keep on track, guiding them toward a goal of perfect or near perfect attendance. It combines descriptions of attendance rates and their impact from Attendance Works and international sources.

Attendance It Matters

Attendance matters across all grade levels from K to 12. Students’ attendance rates, the percent of school days that they are in class, make a true difference:

  • 100% – Children are highly likely to achieve and do very well in school
  • 98%-96% – Children are also going to achieve and do well. However, they are still missing 4 – 7 days per school year.
  • 95%- Kids might struggle a little as they are missing 9 days out of the year. In a handout for elementary age parents, Attendance Works characterizes missing 9 or fewer days of school as satisfactory attendance.
  • 94%- Children are going towards more risk as they have now missed 10 or more days at school per year.  They still can improve, but they may be struggling more academically. Attendance Works considers missing 10 to 17 days as a warning that attendance needs attention.
  • 90% and Below- Kids are in the ‘Danger Zone’. They have missed at least 18 days (and sometimes as much as two months) of school. They are not only going to struggle academically, they are at heightened risk of dropping out and incarceration. Attendance Works counts this as Chronic Absence.

Addressing Absenteeism Differs by Child and Community

Last year, a lot of missed school was pandemic-related. Today, we all are anxious to get our lives back to normal. In the rush, we may need to address some kids’ anxiety about being back in the classroom.

  • For some students, depression or other mental health issues may be affecting attendance. Missing too much school can be a red flag signaling these kinds of serious issues. Does your school have a plan in place for helping students out and creating a safe space for them?
  • Family circumstances, such as homelessness, can also be a contributing factor in being absent. Making sure families know about local resources, and have numbers to call, is helpful but often not sufficient. Sometimes, you may need that mobile clinic on the school site or to even get a food-bank truck to come to school to distribute food.
  • Making services available to families on campus often happens at community schools and often in unexpected ways. For example, in Newark, New Jersey, a high school principal saw a rise in attendance after he installed a washer and a dryer in the school, so students could wash their clothes and have clean clothes to attend school. Because some did this after school, he went a step further and provided homework and tutoring during the week. Friday night was game night and basketball happened as the washing machines worked.

So often, improving student attendance is about seeing a need and addressing the issues head on. Make the resources available. According to a former child welfare attendance clerk at an elementary school in Hayward, they had the goal of bringing attendance up by one to two percent each year. She created a clothes closet; she did perfect attendance awards and a movie night. She also advocated for a washer and dryer in the school as well to help make sure everyone, including homeless and foster youth, had access to clean clothes, shoes, and toiletries to boost her attendance goals. She is now working in Family Engagement for the district to help do more outreach districtwide. These are the kinds of steps PTAs can support and encourage school leaders to take.

Here’s to seeing everyone in school and having a great school year!