You might have heard the saying, “80% of success is showing up.” While that might be a high estimate of the impact of student attendance, research does tell us that attendance in school is one critical factor for success. Researchers who have studied early warning factors, or factors that can help us to predict a student’s likelihood to graduate from high school, have noted the importance of looking at GPA, courses failed, and attendance. Student attendance less than 80% of the time beginning in 6th grade can impact later outcomes, including graduation from high school.
What does the research on student attendance show?
Attendance Works, an initiative that promotes the role of attendance in school achievement, summarizes the research around the importance of school attendance in 10 facts about school attendance. Some of the key research findings include the following:
- Poor attendance in kindergarten and first grade can predict whether or not students can read on grade level in 3rd
- By middle school, chronic attendance problems can predict whether or not a student will graduate.
- Students who miss more than 2 days in the first month of school are likely to go on to miss enough days to equal an entire month of school.
- When students miss 10% of the instructional day (18 days in a 180 day school year), achievement and progress are impacted.
- While most school systems only have consequences or interventions that begin when students miss unexcused days, the impact is the same even when the absences are excused. The impact is also the same when the students are suspended from school.
How can we can interpret this research into action and increased student attendance?
Attendance in 9th grade seems even more crucial, as research points to the strong connection between 9th grade attendance and graduation rate. In fact, the School District of Philadelphia tracked its own students and found that for students who began 9th grade in 2012-13, attendance greatly impacted graduation. For students who missed between 15 and 19 days during their 9th grade year, the graduation rate was 72.8%, compared with a 91% graduation rate for students who missed 0 to 4 days.
Research suggests that school and district leaders who want to impact the graduation rate must look at the issue more broadly. It is not just an academic issue. Schools must address all of the early warning factors—course failure and attendance. Attendance is a sign of disengagement—a sign that students do not see the relevance of what they are learning and are not engaged in the school community.
So, what can schools do? There are three relatively simple interventions that schools can implement immediately to address students with chronic attendance issues and disengagement.
Encourage all students to become involved in the school through extracurricular activities and clubs.
Involvement in extracurricular activities is correlated with increased levels of academic achievement and with fewer absences from school. Schools that wish to improve attendance should encourage students to become involved in extracurricular activities and clubs, and ensure that the school offers a variety of activities to entice students. Research has found that students in more affluent schools and communities have more access to a wide range of activities. School administrators must ensure that there are options for students—from athletics to service clubs to groups and clubs built around student interests and hobbies. When students are able to join a group of peers with similar interests, they are more engaged in school, and are more likely to attend school.
Create a non-academic student attendance incentive: Connect all students in the school to a caring adult or mentor.
Another effective intervention for school leaders who are concerned about student attendance and disengagement is to connect students to a caring adult or mentor. When students have relationships with caring adults and mentors, they can access the social support and guidance needed for positive academic and behavioral progress. Some states and school districts already have programs that recognize the importance of establishing strong connections between students and adults. In Georgia, the Teachers-as-Advisors Program connects high school students to an advisor in the building who remains that student’s advisor for four years. The advisor supports the students with educational and career planning throughout high school.
Ensure that students see the relevance of what they are learning to the real-world and to their future aspirations and goals.
Finally, because lack of student attendance is a sign that a student is disengaged at school, schools must work to ensure that students see the relevance of learning to the real-world and to their future goals. Students, more than ever, must see how their coursework is relevant—how will they use this math, these writing skills, or this knowledge of history? Schools and teachers must understand that students are bombarded with information constantly through technology. Why should they be more tuned in to what is happening in a classroom at school? Schools that help students set goals for their future and match their learning path to those goals and aspirations will be more successful in keeping students engaged in the learning process.
Attendance Works. (2014). 10 facts about school attendance. Available: http://www.attendanceworks.org/facts-stats-school-attendance/
Georgia Department of Education. (2015). Teachers-as-advisors. Available: https://www.georgiastandards.org/Resources/Pages/Tools/Teachers-As-Advisors.aspx
Gradnation. (2017). Caring adult relationships. The Gradnation Action Platform. Available: http://gradnation.americaspromise.org/action-platform/caring-adult-relationships
National Center for Education Statistics. (1995). Extracurricular participation and student engagement. NCES Education Policy Issues Series. Available: https://nces.ed.gov/pubs95/web/95741.asp
National Research Council. (2011). High school dropout, graduation, and completion rates: Better data, better measures, better decisions. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. Available: https://www.nap.edu/read/13035/chapter/7#66
Wills, T. (2017). How much does 9th grade attendance matter? The School District of Philadelphia District Focus Series. Available: https://www.philasd.org/research/wp-content/uploads/sites/90/2017/09/9th-Grade-Attendance-and-Grad-Rates-Focus-Brief-September-2017.pdf