- Chronic absenteeism is estimated to have doubled nationwide since the COVID-19 pandemic began, reaching roughly 16 million students by the 2021-22 school year, according to the nonprofit Attendance Works. A new FutureEd report lays out over two dozen strategies to help schools recover from the surge of students consistently missing school.
- Released in partnership with Attendance Works, the report suggests wide-ranging attendance strategies across three tiers that include: universal prevention, which applies to all students and families; early intervention for students missing 10% to 19% of school days; and intensive intervention for students missing 20% or more of the academic year.
- Universal approaches schools can use range from improving family engagement and student-teacher relationships to providing access to school-based healthcare, telehealth and free school meals, the report said. More targeted efforts to boost attendance can also include mentoring, tutoring, addressing mental health concerns and rethinking truancy policies.
It has proven difficult to return to prepandemic levels of school attendance, even several years after a majority of schools pivoted to virtual learning in March 2020 to prevent the spread of COVID-19, said Phyllis Jordan, the report’s author and associate director of FutureEd.
“It seems that somehow, the pandemic broke the habit of attendance,” Jordan said. “The quarantines and the remote learning sort of snapped that habit, and schools are working really hard to get kids back to the habit.”
Jordan also noted that there were two contradictory trends among the strategies shared in the report. While Jordan found new and innovative approaches are emerging to improve school attendance, she also saw that basic strategies like giving students a voice and making their curriculum relevant can help make positive changes, too.
For instance, innovative school strategies such as student telehealth access have proven to boost attendance, even though that’s not usually the direct purpose, Jordan said. Telehealth helps attendance because students are less likely to miss class for doctor’s appointments, and they’re addressing health challenges early on.
Another newer approach to improving school attendance, perhaps indirectly, is upgrading and renovating ventilation systems, Jordan said. The FutureEd report cites a 2013 study analyzing 162 classrooms across 28 California schools that found such infrastructure updates could bring a 3.4% decline in illness-related student absences.
On a more basic level, just giving students more opportunities to provide input in their daily experiences at school can help improve attendance, Jordan said. It’s also important, she said, that parents feel welcome and heard in the school community.
Culturally relevant curricula can also allow students to see themselves in what they’re learning, which improves engagement and ultimately attendance, Jordan said. That suggestion comes at a time when policymakers are increasingly proposing restrictions on classroom discussion of topics related to race, racism, gender and sexual orientation.