Another Explanation for Student Absences

Back of student girl holding books and carry school bag while walking in school campus background, education, back to school concept

A significant part of supporting student success in school is the regularity of their attendance. Often as we are dealing with students who have struggled to succeed in school, truancy and lack of attendance is a significant part of their profile thereby leading to inability to achieve academic success.

It is easy to assume that this lack of attendance is a part of their rebellion or resistance to be in school. However, it is often the case that there are other factors within their home or community that may be contributing to these absences. In a recent article published on The Conversation this issue is discussed with a different slant on what may be going on in the lives of the students. Here is an excerpt from this article:

Nationally, one in six children miss 15 or more days of school in a year and are considered chronically absent. Education officials have lamented that all this missed instruction has for years constituted an attendance crisis in U.S. elementary, middle and high schools.

The fear among policymakers is that these chronically absent students suffer academically because of all the classroom instruction they miss out on. In 2015, the U.S. Secretary of Education and other federal officials responded to this perceived crisis, urging communities to “support every student, every day to attend and be successful in school.” Their open letter stated that missing 10% of school days in a year for any reason – excused or unexcused – “is a primary cause of low academic achievement.”

Worrying about whether children attend school makes sense. After all, if students don’t show up, teachers can’t teach them.

Homeless little boy sitting on stairs outdoors. School bullying and discrimination. Kid having sad feeling. Family problems with adoption kids. Scared boy with his face covered

But what if America’s attendance crisis is about much more than students missing class? What if, instead, it is a reflection of family and community crises these students face – such as being evicted from the family apartment, fearing for their safety in their neighborhood or suffering an illness? These circumstances can both limit children’s academic achievement and keep them from getting to school.

The rest of the article cites some research about the impact of unexcused absences in academic performance and the fact that it signals some other issues related to family struggles that some students may be enduring and attempting to cope with.

Like many issues related to students who are struggling with their behavior there are other contributing factors that may not be visible to onlookers like teachers and administrators. It is important to recognize some of the adversities and trauma that our students may be dealing with which may have significant impact to their ability to attend school. It is always important to ask what is going on in their family life as a way of understanding truancy and lapses in school attendance. It may make the difference in how we approach them and how we understand their absences from school.

Gerry Vassar


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