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Skipping school, cutting class or playing hooky. Whatever name you give it, truancy and excessive absences can lead to serious problems for students and schools. Surprisingly, the issue is one that often goes unnoticed and can be easily overlooked.
National data shows that students with higher absenteeism rates have lower scores on national standardized tests, reinforcing a growing body of research confirming the connection between school attendance and achievement, according to Attendance Works, a national and state initiative that promotes better policy and practice around school attendance. Yet, each year, between 5 million and 7.5 million students across the nation miss nearly a month of school. In Michigan, more than 25 percent of the state's students are chronically absent, missing 10 percent or more of the school year.
"They are trying to raise awareness for families that chronic absenteeism is causing a problem for kids," said Carolyn Claerhout who heads pupil, corporate and district services for the Oakland Schools. "Attendance Works spoke at the district on September 11. They are trying to get attention drawn to chronic absenteeism. That's not truancy."
Truancy is a measure of how many students miss school without an excuse. Under state law, a student who misses 10 or more days of school due to unexcused absences is considered truant. Chronic absence is a measure of how many students miss 10 percent of the school year, or 18 to 20 days, due to both excused and unexcused absences and suspension. Despite the different definitions, both truancy and chronic absenteeism have similar impacts on students.
At the earliest ages, a lack of attendance means less exposure to language rich environments, with chronic absences serving as an early warning sign that a student is behind in reading by the third grade, failing courses in middle and high school, and likely to drop out of school, according to Attendance Works. Attendance may also predict college enrollment and persistence.
A state-by-state analysis of national testing data demonstrates that students who miss more school than their peers score lower on the National Assessment for Educational Progress (NAEP), according to Attendance Works. This is true at every age, in every racial and ethnic group, and in every state and city examined. In many cases, the students with more absences have skill levels one or two years below their peers.
Despite the importance of attendance, many districts may overlook the problem of absenteeism and truancy because it's possible they are looking at the wrong data. For instance, a school may have a high average daily attendance rate and also have a problem with truancy, according to the U.S. Department of Education's Office of Safe and Drug-Free Schools. That's because the average daily attendance rate doesn't capture the full picture of students who are chronically absent. It's entirely possible, the office said, that 30 percent of a student body is considered chronically absent even though 90 percent of the students are in class on an average day....continued on page 2