Schools start the year strong with improved attendance

An initiative to get every student to school every day is seeing success across all grade-levels in one Massachusetts district–but officials have said they’re not satisfied just yet.

Administrators at Lynn Public Schools–located north of Boston–only began rolling out the initiative, “Every Student, Every Day” this school year, but have already seen an increase in attendance rates and a decrease in chronic absence rates.

As the name would suggest, the federal initiative focuses on getting kids to school every day in part by raising awareness of the importance of showing up.

To that end, the district distributed posters that identified attendance as a key factor in students’ path toward graduation and their overall long-term success. Officials also said they were working to with families and reaching out to community organizations to better support those students with the worst attendance habits

Since rolling out the initiative four months ago, attendance has increased or remained steady at all but three of the district’s 26 schools, deputy superintendent Kimberlee Powers told local reporters. At the same time, chronic absenteeism has decreased in all but five of the district’s schools.

In Massachusetts, chronic absenteeism is defined as missing 18 or more days of school–representative of 10 percent of the school year.

High numbers of absences are associated with lagging development of the social skills needed to persist in school, weaker reading skills and higher retention rates. In fact, research has long shown that as early as sixth grade, chronically absent children are more likely to drop out of school and come into contact with the juvenile justice system.

According to Powers, there has been a more than 1 percent reduction in chronic absenteeism rates among students in grades 3 through 8, and an impressive 6 percent decrease among high school-aged students.

Last year, nearly 36 percent of high schoolers were chronically absent, according to district data. This year, that number is already down to just below 30 percent.

Powers said that despite those positive results, chronic absenteeism and attendance continue to be a major challenge among various subgroups. There’s a district-wide struggle with attendance in kindergarten, for instance, and administrators view high absenteeism rates as a symptom of deeper problems faced by at-risk youth, she said.

Now, with some progress already made, the district is planning to include a deeper focus on social-emotional learning and creating more positive school climates.

Administrators noted that if they can help students dealing with deeper problems such as mental health issues, homelessness or a lack of reliable transportation, they can ensure those children get to school and keep up academically.

And, Powers said, putting into place the needed supports for all students would support the district’s most vulnerable and marginalized students and families, and create a more welcoming school environment.