A student exhibiting signs of chronic absenteeism misses 10 percent or more of the school year.1 They may miss a consecutive period or spread their absences throughout the year. This behavior has many root causes, such as major illness, fear of bullying and a lack of value placed on education. Most schools focus on average daily attendance, but this figure doesn't reveal the major problem of chronic absenteeism, which impacts 6.5 million students each year.2

The Signs of Chronic Absenteeism

You don't have a hard time identifying an absence issue when the student is out of school for a week or more at a time, but you may overlook patterns that spread throughout the entire year.

In these instances, watch for students who have a hard time keeping up with the current lessons. They may avoid homework or show a complete lack of understanding of earlier concepts. When you see these signs, look through the student's attendance history and see how many absences they have.

Why Teachers and Counselors Must Intervene

Chronic absenteeism indicates a much higher chance that a student's high school completion is at risk. A study of Baltimore schools found a 42 percent dropout rate among children missing between 20 and 39 days, compared to a 26 percent rate in the typical student population.3

Their absences could impact them significantly throughout the rest of their life if they withdraw from education programs. They earn less than high school and college graduates, may fall into a cycle of life-long poverty, and face challenging home lives. If you intervene before the parents or students decide that dropping out is a good decision, you can change the course of their entire lives.

How to Reduce Absenteeism

The first step in reducing absenteeism is learning how big of a problem it is. Your school district needs to go beyond average daily attendance and track other data as well. Some policies and procedures may change to accommodate accurate data collection in classrooms.

Your school should seek to create a supportive environment that allows students to focus on their work. This starts by examining the education environment students encounter when they're trying to learn. Aim to proactively reduce bullying and harassment at school and provide an inclusive experience. It is critically important school is a safe and happy place for students, especially those that may have a turbulent home life.4 Try to build a dialogue with at-risk students so they feel comfortable speaking with you when a problem arises. Additionally, your school may want to move away from punishments which involve significant time spent in out-of-school suspensions. Work to identify the prevalent causes of chronic absenteeism in your school and tailor your efforts accordingly.

Do the students come from particular neighborhoods? Low-income areas suffer the most from chronic absenteeism for many reasons.5 Some students feel the need to enter the workforce early to help their families, while others may deal with homelessness or insufficient housing. Fixing this community problem requires a lot of work and coordination with local agencies. A few ways guidance counselors can help support struggling families include working with teachers to offer more accessible tutoring, providing avenues for credit recovery, creating educational resources for parents, advocating for expanded school food programs, and continuing to provide positive messaging and reinforcement for students and their families.

Chronic absenteeism is a complex problem that has a lifelong impact on students. You need to work together with parents and the community to set your students up for future success. Each school faces a unique set of contributing factors that lead to repeated absences, so you need a deep understanding of who this problem affects, your available resources, and ways to decrease absenteeism over the long term.

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Resources: Photo credit. (1) EdWeek (2) Attendance Works (3) Attendance Works (4) Professional Learning Board (5) Every1Graduates