Absenteeism poses a big problem for schools

Published 8:45 am Wednesday, September 25, 2019

One of the most significant challenges educators throughout Tennessee face every day is, in reality, something that’s so fundamental to ensuring students are receiving a good education — being at school.
It should come as no surprise that chronic absenteeism has a direct correlation to student achievement. The reason behind that is quite simple — students can’t learn if they aren’t at school. We don’t need students and research to tell us that if a student isn’t in the classroom grasping the concepts being taught will be more difficult.
And as simple as that might sound at the end of the day, chronic absenteeism is a serious issue that is impacting the Carter County School System.
More than 10 absent days count as a chronically absent student, and currently the Carter County School System is around 23 percent when it comes to absenteeism — a number the state doesn’t like.
This means that roughly a quarter of students have missed 10 or more days of school, no matter what the reasons might be. Carter County’s absenteeism rate is high when compared to neighboring counties like Greene, who are around 6 or 7 percent where absenteeism is concerned.
The Carter County School Board hopes a new attendance policy will cut down on student absenteeism. The board at its meeting this month passed on first reading a new attendance policy, which reduces the number of parent call-ins from three per semester to two per year. The second reading will be in December, and if passed then, the new policy will go into effect for the spring 2020 semester.
Research shows that students who are chronically absent are considered more likely to become poor readers, which contributes to another bad result: They’re more likely to drop out of school.
These chronically absent students, along with adults in their lives, are not putting enough emphasis on education and are at greatest risk of falling behind academically, with all that means for their ability to become productive adults. The school district says poor attendance in the early elementary years widens a skills gap that proves difficult to overcome. Those students are less likely to graduate on time.
Just over 89 percent of Tennessee’s public high school graduates graduated on time in 2018.
Not only can student absences hinder academic growth, but absences can also cost school districts thousands of dollars in state funding each year.
Obviously, parents have an important role to play in improving these numbers. It’s vital to get the message across to children early on that they’re expected to attend school every day.
But schools have a crucial role to play as well, and that can start by flagging enrollment problems early on, before absenteeism rather than attendance becomes the habit.
The county school board is certainly justified in striving for better attendance numbers.
You can’t teach students if they’re not in the classroom. The goal is to get 55 percent of Tennesseans equipped with a college degree or certificate by the year 2025. It’s just talk until we do a better job of actually getting students into the classroom and getting them through high school.
Ultimately, ensuring students are at school each and every day during the school year is a vital initiative that we as a community can help impact.

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