The warm breezes and sunshine that often mark the beginning of spring shouldn’t signal that children can miss school. Many parents and schools don’t realize that student attendance moves up and down throughout the year. Some school districts have noticed student attendance waning in early April, with the biggest decline in June.
Research shows that missing too many days at any time during the school year can lead to children struggling to read proficiently by the end of third grade, failing courses in middle school, and dropping out in high school.
The numbers are troubling: recent federal data collected from school districts across the country showed that at least 6.8 million students, in every state and at every grade level, missed three or more weeks of school in 2013-14. And while many parents focus on high school students dropping out, chronic absence is not just a problem in middle and high school; It starts in kindergarten and preschool, and is a problem in school districts of every size and type – urban, suburban, and rural.
The “Spring Slide” in Attendance
In addition to seeing drops in attendance during the weeks around Thanksgiving and the winter holidays, a number of school districts have also noticed that attendance starts to wane in April, right after testing, with the worst spikes in low attendance in June. Paying attention to these dips and finding out why they occur can help families and schools make sure students continue to learn and build a habit of regular attendance.
A recent survey of data from the New York City Department of Education found in the 2012-13 school year, across elementary and middle schools, there was a 5.8 percent difference between April and June attendance rates. In New York’s struggling schools, the difference in attendance rates rose to a difference of 11 percentage points. Yet more than 20 percent of the school year remains in April through June in New York City, which is the case in many school districts across the country.
ExpandED schools, a nonprofit dedicated to providing more and better learning time to students in low income communities, looked into these numbers to develop, Avoiding the Attendance Slump: Strategies to Maximize Learning Time in June – A Resource Guide.
ExpandED asked school leaders in New York City to explain why they think there are attendance dips in spring. After required testing ends, post-testing mindsets take root, ExpandEd wrote. Here’s what they found:
- Educators: Some teachers see the last few weeks of school as a time to prepare for the next school year. Many begin to clean up their rooms, finish end of the year paperwork, and prepare for final report cards.
- Field trip policy: Policies that prevent students from attending trips – high costs, or participation limits for students with low attendance or behavioral infractions – can result in much lower attendance on the day of the trip.
- Afterschool programming: The message that school is winding down is amplified when school programming ends before the official school term.
- Students: When students see bare bulletin boards in the halls and hear plans for traditional events – such as prom or graduation practice – it can signal that the school year will soon be over.
- Parents: Some parents don’t seem to value the final weeks of school and take their kids out of school to begin summer vacations early.
Yet there are schools that don’t experience a spring attendance slump. These schools were engaged in activities such as spirit week and end-of-the-year showcases that can build a positive school culture and keep students engaged. Students assigned to mentors can use the last weeks of school to talk about how to be prepared for the next year. Administrators can shift events such as graduations and proms to the final days of school, which proves effective in maintaining student participation, ExpandED wrote.
What Can Parents Ask Schools to Do?
Check Data for Dips: Do you know if a spring slump in attendance is a problem in your child’s school? If you aren’t sure, consider asking your principal or superintendent if they’ve ever examined their data.
Find Out Why Students Are Absent: And, if springtime slump is a problem, call for your school to take time to unpack why students are missing too many days, and identify what might help to improve it. Parents can offer to help design and analyze a survey. Or encourage your school to get students involved in conducting a survey.
Look for Models: If there is another school in your district that does a good job of keeping students in school in the spring months, find out what they are doing and advocate for such programs to be adopted by your school. Spring can be an ideal time to encourage strong learning activities that provide opportunities for children to engage in their community and practice newfound skills, according to ExpandED.
What Can Parents Do at Home?
As a parent, you can also take steps to ensure your own children don’t miss out on school.
Learn what chronic absence is and how it impacts student success. My organization, Attendance Works, has parent handouts that have information and tips for kids in pre-K to 12th.
Help your children understand why going to school every day matters. Talk about what they miss when they are out, how showing up every day is an important skill for getting and keeping a job, and how attending every day helps them learn what they need to know to achieve their hopes and dreams. Watch our Bringing Attendance Home Video
Make attendance a priority at home. Set daily routines such as regular bedtimes for younger kids. Check out our August 2015 webinar, Finish Strong, with ideas for more independent students in middle and high school who also need to understand the link between chronic absence and school success.
Set attendance goals with your child, and track your child’s attendance. Download our Student Attendance Success Plans for pre-K to 12th grade.
Avoid taking your children on vacations unless school is not in session.
Consider learning enrichment activities in the summer months to help your child avoid the summer learning loss and reinforce the value of being in school every day. The National Summer Learning Association provides resources and information.
Hedy Nai-Lin Chang is the executive director of Attendance Works, a national and state initiative that promotes better policy and practice around school attendance. Find out more: http://www.attendanceworks.org/