The goal of the Arkansas Campaign for Grade-Level Reading is that all Arkansas children read on grade level by the end of third grade. In 2015, the National Assessment for Educational Progress showed that just 31 percent of Arkansas third graders were proficient readers. We must take action to close the gap.
Principals know from experience and common sense what research confirms: showing up for class is critical to achieving our goal. Students cannot benefit from investments in high-quality instruction and more engaging, demanding curriculum unless they are in the classroom. As early as the first month of school, chronic absence–defined as missing 10 percent or just two or more days of school–can be an early warning sign of academic trouble, starting as early as pre-K.
Yet, in Arkansas, chronic absence remains a significant challenge. More than one in 10 students in the early grades miss a month or more of school.
Whether excused or not, if absences add up, the resulting loss of instructional time can be substantial and, for many students, the academic consequences are decidedly negative. Children who are chronically absent in kindergarten and first grade are much less likely to read proficiently by the end of third grade and are more likely to have poor attendance in later grades. By middle and high school, chronic absence is a proven early warning sign that a student will drop out. This is especially true for students from low-income families who need school the most and are sometimes getting the least time in the classroom.
The good news is chronic absence is a solvable problem. Attendance improves when schools and communities partner with students and families to monitor when absences are adding up to academic risk and to identify and address barriers to getting to class. While everyone can help ensure students show up to class every day, principals are uniquely positioned to ensure their school adopts a comprehensive, tiered approach to improving attendance that fits with their overall approach to promoting academic achievement. Such a tiered approach is easily incorporated into existing efforts, such as Response to Intervention, that can be expanded to include specific attention to chronic absence data and support to cultivate good attendance.
The Arkansas Campaign for Grade-Level Reading launched Make Every Day Count to provide support to schools and districts across the state that want to reduce their chronic absence rates.
This toolkit is designed to help Arkansas principals:
- Cultivate a School-Wide Culture of Attendance
- Use Data to Determine Need for Additional Support
- Take a Team Approach and Develop Staff Capacity
- Tap All Available Resources to Improve Attendance
- Advocate for Resources and Improved Policy
As a principal, you are positioned to take these strategies and tailor them to the realities of your own school community and staff. Draw upon your knowledge as well as that of key staff, parent leaders, and community partners plus these resources to tailor a plan for reducing chronic absence that suits your school’s strengths and shores up its challenges. You can find positive, effective, preventive approaches to improving attendance before turning to costlier, punitive measures. With the right plan in place, you can improve student attendance and raise academic achievement.