Chronic Absenteeism & Parents: 4 Things to Know

Attendance, Operations, Possip, Principal, Retention / /

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Chronic absenteeism and attendance is a big deal these days.  In fact, over 60% of states have some measure of attendance included in their ESSA standards.  What does that mean plainly? 

States are putting their money on an ability to improve attendance and reduce chronic absenteeism.

And this goal is important!  Attendance Works shares a few important statistics:

  • More than 8 million students are missing so many days of school that they are academically at risk (missing more than 10% of school days – about 2.5 weeks of school out of a year)
  • Children living in poverty are 2-3 times more likely to be chronically absent
  • 9th grade attendance has been found to be a better predictor of high school graduation than 8th grade test scores

Unmistakably, attendance matters. 

And yet parents – the people most charged with communicating and implementing the importance of attendance may be in the dark on why it matters, and why schools and districts are suddenly doubling down on it!

In this week’s Possip questions, we got to hear from parents about some barriers to daily attendance and causes of chronic absenteeism – and it provided an important perspective.

Barriers to Daily Attendance

1. Knowledge & Mindsets: There’s lots of research about the impact of chronic absenteeism on a student’s academic achievement. Many parents don’t know that data – so the sudden priority on school attendance may be without context.  Even I – a person who spends her days and nights thinking about education – was surprised to hear some of the statistics.

Without context for why schools and districts suddenly care so much about attendance, or how absenteeism will impact their child, school intervention can be confusing at best – and domineering and trust-breaching at worst.

Parents who were strong believers in attendance were proud to articulate their conviction about their child being in school.  We encourage schools to find your big believers and leverage them as role models for other parents!
b. In your newsletters or call outs, share some of the statistics with parents to help them better understand the context for why you care about attendance.  Here is an example robocall text. “Did you know that children who miss more than 10 days of school are at greater risk of being academically behind?  
We love seeing your child here at school and we are excited to see your child 
every day.”

2. Conflicting Information: Parents get confused with conflicting information. Sometimes they hear, “your child should only stay home in extreme illness circumstances”, sometimes they hear, “if your child is sick, keep them home so they don’t infect others”.  Parents said they end up being confused on what they should do. 

Solution: In your communication give parents a table that helps explain.  Here is an example below*!  You can find lots of resources on-line — and it is an art more than a science for parents.  But here are some resources:

Bring your scholar in! Keep your scholar home
Common cold
Appointment later in the day
No fever
Fever above 99 degrees
Frequent vomit & diarrhea
Inability to move without pain
Contagious disease (pink eye)

Speaking of illness…

3. Sick happens: The reality is that sick happens.  Parents get confused on the policies.  When do they need a doctor’s note? And why is a doctor’s note necessary? What is a reasonable number of days for a kid to be sick a year?  Do colds qualify as sickness? (most pediatricians say that kids can go to school when they have a cold or sniffles).  Kids with asthma or other additional illnesses have special needs.

Some of this comes down to how much a parent trusts that the school can take care of their child when they have chronic conditions – like asthma.  The clearer plan and policy the school has on things like how it handles medication, how it communicates with parents during illnesses, and when students should stay at school versus go home, the more parents will trust the school to send their child when their child isn’t feeling well.

4. Transportation:  55% of students ride the bus to school.  This means two things: 1) there are lots of kids not riding a bus – who may still be too far away to walk to school; 2) there are a lot of kids who rely on the bus to get to school.  Struggle is real – and we heard from parents who had recently lost their car, their car broke down, or they moved and didn’t have a new route yet.

This is tricky to solve – and we don’t have easy solutions.

We can share what some of our schools have done:
-Create a clear process so parents know how to communicate when they are having transportation barriers
-Keep a running list of parents that are willing to be contacted or help when short-term transportation needs arise
-Consider paying a teacher a stipend to both ride the bus and to walk with students to nearby locations so they can communicate with parents and the school in advance who has  missed the bus to get a jump start on tracking them down

Helping solve chronic absenteeism is no easy task. There were actually a number of additional reasons parents shared – from cold weather (and not wanting their child to wait for the bus in the cold) to the role of bullying and lack of a connected friend group.  The reasons are many.

Our best hope and suggestion is that schools and districts take the opportunity to proactively share with families why attendance matters so much.  And create some fun ideas to celebrate attendance!  Here are some from some of our school partners:

– a monthly drawing of all kids with perfect attendance for a movie raffle

– a quarterly celebration for all kids with perfect attendance

– a peer mentor for upper elementary/middle school students who can write a note or check in with their friend or peer when they missed school

– a mom carpool of mothers willing to be called to help parents when they have transportation needs

Whatever you do – best wishes! And keep us posted with your ideas at

*disclaimer: Possip does not make medical advice. We are providing this as an example, and not as any actual advice.