On successful basketball teams, every player has a role and knows what it is - the floor general, the defensive stopper, or the shooter. For others, it’s to clear the boards. All the roles are necessary and important even if they don’t get the same attention. Likewise, many factors are in the success of a school district: quality instruction, rigorous curriculum, high expectations, safe learning environment, etc. One as equally important, but not always in the spotlight, is regular student attendance.
A quick look at the research tells us the obvious: attendance is directly related to student achievement, and absenteeism negatively impacts grades and graduation. Study after study links chronic absenteeism to increased dropout rates, poor standardized test performance, and below grade level reading ability. In addition, it becomes a habit that often extends into the work place.
Chronic absenteeism is defined by most studies and the Missouri School Boards Association as ten percent and above. It’s worth noting the research doesn’t differentiate between absence types in this definition, either. Excused or unexcused doesn’t matter; for the purposes of student achievement, an absence is an absence. For our Maryville R-II school calendar, chronic absenteeism, or ten percent, is 17 days. That’s about a day every other week. Nationwide, between 5 and 7.5 million kids in the US are chronically absent each year according to a John Hopkins University study.
Here in the Maryville R-II School District the average daily attendance rate is above 95%, which means on any given day over 95% of our students are in class. However, that also means about 5% of our students may be gone. Even with this great overall attendance rate, a significant number of our students missed ten or more days during first semester and are considered chronically absent.
With the critical role attendance plays in learning, chronic absenteeism is too much missed time - too much missed learning. With all this in mind, my new year’s resolution as superintendent is to get all kids to school every day. I realize that resolution (like most others) will be broken; not all 1420 students will have perfect attendance, but I can hope. Afterall, attendance is to school what rebounding is to basketball. Necessary if you’re going to win the big game.