As many as 15 percent of children and teenagers are chronically absent, meaning that they miss more than three days of school in a row or ten percent of the school year, according to a new study. The researchers out of Johns Hopkins University argue that the problem is likely not going to be solved due to the way policy makers measure school attendance.
According to their research, many schools measure truancy and average attendance, often mistaking chronic absenteeism with truancy, when they are two different things.
“No one is measuring this most fundamental thing - are kids attending school regularly?” Robert Balfanz, one of the Johns Hopkins researchers who worked on the study said to The Associated Press. “You can't even analyze what's working in closing the achievement gap without looking first at chronic absenteeism.”
They explain that chronic absenteeism is any extended absence from school for any reason regardless of whether the absence is excused, whereas truancy is only unexcused absences. By focusing on truancy and only measuring the average attendance, the authors found that many schools are masking sometimes larger groups of students who are chronically absent.
“We don’t see the problem clearly because, in most places, we don’t measure it, and average daily attendance really skews the way we view this,” Balfanz said to The New York Times.
Looking at data from six different states, they found that the percentage ranged from 6 percent of the students being chronically absent to as high as 25 percent in some schools. They estimate up to 15 percent of students nationwide are chronically missing school, and that the number spikes up to over a third of students in urban and rural areas.
Balfanz explained to The Huffington Post that often these absences come as a result of students coming from impoverished families.
“They have to get their sister to school, and that makes them late, so they just pretend to be sick rather than getting in trouble,” Balfanz said. “Or they need to earn money to help the family. Or there's gang violence they're avoiding.”
More often than not, these are the students that need the most attention, and likely need the most help with their schoolwork from teachers.
“The research shows that we must address the attendance problem if we are going to have the kind of broader school improvement we want and our students deserve,” Marie Groark, executive director of Get Schooled, an education nonprofit that paid for the study said to The Associated Press.
The authors acknowledge that when schools are aware of the issue, programs dedicated to school attendance are implemented and are often very effective at getting students in school. However, they call on local and state leaders to do more to monitor the issue. By regularly measuring and reporting instances of chronic absenteeism, they feel that this could potentially be a key to closing the achievement gap.
“State and district policies need to encourage every student to attend school every day and support school districts, schools, non-profits, communities, and parents in using evidence-based strategies to act upon these data to propel all students to attend school daily,” the authors wrote in the study.
Nancy Swanson is a writer for 360 Education Solutions