Arlington ISD promotes Attendance Awareness Month
Everybody knows it’s important to go to school. But not everyone understands just how critical it is and how harmful even a few absences can be. There are at least five myths about school attendance that harm many students’ academic performance and ultimately their future.
This is Attendance Awareness Month and it’s still early in the school year, so now is the time to correct those myths. Arlington ISD principals know the truth and help debunk the misconceptions below.
SCHOOL ATTENDANCE AND ABSENCE MYTHS
1. Attendance is mostly important for high school. It’s not as critical in elementary school.
FALSE. The foundation for a successful education and future starts in elementary school.
“Attendance is important for every child every day,” said Duff Elementary principal Cindy Harbison. “Lifelong habits are established in early years during elementary school that contribute to student success.”
Research shows that chronic absence in early grades correlates to difficulty reading in third grade and low achievement in middle school or junior high. By sixth grade, chronic absence becomes a leading indicator that a student will drop out of high school.
“Elementary provides the critical foundation skills that all students need to build upon throughout their educational journey,” Harbison said.
2. Missing school two-three days a month is not a big deal.
FALSE. Missing just two-three days a month is 10 percent, and that equals a big – negative – impact.
“Throughout a school day, each student engages in each of his or her core subjects (math, reading, writing, science, social studies) and elective courses (like art, music, strings, P.E., etc.),” said Peach Elementary principal Ayesha Ramos. “Missing two-three days per month can very quickly amount to a heavy load of missed lessons and makeup work. In addition to missing core instruction, students who miss two-three days per month are also missing two-three hours of their intervention/enrichment time. The best way to keep up with the pacing of your student’s curriculum is to ensure they are in class daily.”
Ramos explained that school attendance isn’t just about classwork. Going to school has other lifelong benefits as well.
“Additionally, students benefit from the structure and routine of the school day and are missed by their teachers and peers when they are absent,” she said.
3. As long as the absence is excused, it’s ok.
FALSE. It is true that an excused absence is better than unexcused. There are times when a student needs to be absent. But excused absences can harm a student’s learning just as much as unexcused absences.
“Students’ success and attendance have a direct correlation, so even excused absences should be reserved for only appropriate circumstances such as illness or emergencies,” said Carolyn Longoria, the assistant principal for the Lamar High School P-TECH. “Often, students can feel overwhelmed when they are frequently absent due to missing important instruction and assignments.”
Longoria pointed out that Texas law does not differentiate between excused and unexcused absences in its requirement that students attend school.
“Texas state law requires students to be in attendance 90 percent of the time, which includes both excused and unexcused absences,” she said. “You can help support your student by ensuring they arrive to school on time and by scheduling appointments outside of school hours.”
4. The parents of kids who are absent a lot just don’t care about their kids’ education.
FALSE. Parents most often do care very much about their children and their education. There are other factors at play that cause the school absences.
“The perception that parents do not care is an assumption educators make without digging deeper into the cause,” said Carter Junior High principal Elena Lopez. “In my experience, parents genuinely want what is best for their child.”
Often the absences stem from challenges the students face outside of school, not a lack of concern from their parents.
“I have found more often than not that most students with attendance concerns are students who are responsible for waking themselves up in the morning and assuring that they walk to school or meet their school bus on time because a parent is not home,” Lopez said. “In some cases, students have had to remain home to care for siblings when siblings are ill because parents work and cannot miss work. Other times, students are simply exhausted from caring for their siblings while a parent works a night shift. I also have encountered students who work after school and are too tired to attend school the next day.”
Another factor is that parents often don’t understand how important attendance is or how detrimental just a few absences can be.
“I have discovered that parents have no knowledge of the 90 percent rule on attendance and that retention is linked to poor attendance,” Lopez said. “They are unaware of the process followed with truancy and the legal ramifications that parents and students face as a result of poor attendance.”
This can be fixed, Lopez explained. She offers orientations for students and parents before school begins and explains the importance of attendance. Educating the parents is key.
“We cannot control all external variables, but we certainly can educate families about the impact that attendance has on students academically and socially,” Lopez said.
5. Absent students can always do makeup work and be just fine.
FALSE. It is true that students can and need to complete makeup work when they are absent. But makeup work doesn’t make up for everything the student missed in school.
“When a student is absent, although they can complete makeup work, they miss key instruction on skills and knowledge that is needed to be successful in their classes,” said Shackelford Junior High principal Kelli Smith.
Makeup work can only go so far. It doesn’t include the experience and interaction that makes learning and knowledge come alive.
“They miss getting to participate in discovery, student discourse and learning from experiences in the classroom,” Smith said. “Knowledge and understanding are more than being able to complete a worksheet, it is connecting new knowledge with concepts learned previously to construct new meaning and sharing explanations of what is learned. We want to celebrate students being at school in person and the knowledge they gain.”
The school year is still young, so there is still time to get kids in school and ensure good attendance. If everyone – parents, teachers, students and all community members pitch in and do what they can – millions of lives – and futures – can be impacted for the better.
So, now is the time to act, to make sure your students make it to school. It’s certainly not always easy to get to school, but the long-term benefits of going make the effort more than worthwhile.
Learn more about the importance of school attendance and what you can do to help at the Attendance Awareness Campaign 2022.