What Does Chronic Absenteeism Cost Students with Disabilities?

Head shot of author Hedy ChangIn celebration of Attendance Awareness Month, NCWD/Youth welcomes guest blogger Hedy Chang, Director of Attendance Works. Attendance Works is a national nonprofit focused on improving the policy, practice, and research around school attendance. NCWD/Youth is a Collaborating Partner for Attendance Awareness Month.

We all start the school year with high hopes for new accomplishments, better grades and greater success. But before September is over, a pernicious problem begins to undermine these goals: school absenteeism.

Too many missed days can leave students falling behind in their classes, disconnected from classmates and more likely to drop out of high school. The problem is particularly acute for students with disabilities.

A new report from Attendance Works and Healthy Schools Campaign found that students with disabilities are more likely to miss too much school than other students. About 27 percent of 8th graders with disabilities had high rates of absenteeism, compared to 19 percent of others, according to an analysis of information from the National Assessment of Educational Progress.

Infographic with text across top "Attend Today, Achieve Tomorrow" Good School Attendance Means... followed by images of school aged youth with captions "Elementary Stidents: read well by the end of third grade Middle Schoolers: pass important courses; High Schoolers: stay on track for graduation; College Students: earn their degrees; Workers: succeed in their jobs" Under the images is the text "Too many absences - excused or unexcused can keep students from succeeding in school and in life. How many are too many? 10% of the school year - that's 18 missed days or 2 days a month - can knock students off track" and Attendance Works Logo featuring a hand placed on top of an apple.

These high absenteeism rates correlate with lower graduation rates. In the 2012-2013 school year, about 62 percent of students with disabilities graduated on time, nearly 20 points below the national average.

Image showing three cartoon students at desks. Top line of text "Attend Today. Achieve Tomorrow." Bottom line of text "Attendance works www.attendanceworks.org" Some of these absences reflect the health concerns of physically disabled students, but others occur because of the lack of appropriate educational placements, bullying, or school aversion that can affect students with learning disabilities, particularly those with emotional issues. In addition, students with disabilities are more than twice as likely as other youth to receive an out-of-school suspension.

Fortunately, this is a problem that can be solved when families, schools and community partners work together. Here are some key steps:

  1. Make sure to track student absences. It’s important to count days missed for excused and unexcused absences, as well as suspensions. They all add up to lost instructional time. Research suggests that missing 10 percent of the school year – 18 days in many districts – is a tipping point for academic problems. That may sounds like a lot, but it’s only two days a month.
  2. Create a welcoming environment at school. The best way to improve attendance is to make school a place where students want to come. A greeting at the front door, a teacher who notices when students are absent, and/or incentives for showing up every day can create a culture of attendance. A firm handle on bullying is also essential.
  3. Provide extra support for students with poor attendance: If a student is chronically absent or getting close to the 10 percent mark, we need to intervene. Teachers can talk to families about strategies for improving attendance using this Student Attendance Success Plan or can include attendance goals in the Individualized Educational Program. Mentors, whether community volunteers or older students, have proven successful in reducing absences for some student.
  4. Tap community partners to help. Given that physical and mental health conditions often contribute to absences, it’s important to engage doctors, nurses, and public health officials in improving attendance. School-based health centers and merely the presence of a school nurse have been proven to reduce absenteeism. Other community partners – afterschool providers, housing authorities, transit agencies and business and faith leaders – can also help children and families address the barriers that keep them from getting to school. See these handouts for making the case to community partners/

Improved attendance is one positive outcome linked to family involvement for students including students with disabilities. In addition to the tips above for school-based staff, mentors, and community members, check out these related resources for families to help increase student success!



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