You probably already are aware that chronic absenteeism is an epidemic faced by many of today’s educational institutions.
But while the problem is widespread, the solution may lie a little closer to home.
The combination of reasons behind chronic absenteeism is unique for every school, district, and region. What causes students in one district to miss school days can be distinctly different from what causes the same problem in another district.
Whether your school is large or small, whether it’s located in an urban setting or a rural one, and many other factors all play a role in chronic absenteeism.
Since the underlying problems are unique to your school, you will need to take a unique approach in order to overcome the issues that cause your students to miss class.
What, then, is the best way to implement a successful strategy that’s tailored to your specific school and its students?
Could the answer be to focus on your Student Information System (SIS), since that’s where you already track and respond to student absences?
Let’s take a look.
Factors of Chronic Absenteeism (and How Your SIS Can Solve Them)
Student Health Issues
Health issues are a major cause of chronic absenteeism.
Unfortunately, student health records and student attendance records are often kept separate. Health information at many schools is confined to the nurse’s office, turning the cause and the effect of chronic absenteeism into hard-to-connect silos.
But what if you simply brought students’ health information directly into your SIS instead of keeping it separate? The more connected your information relating to chronic absenteeism is, the more insight you can glean about the big picture. You would notice patterns, which you could use to uncover one of the root causes of a student’s chronic absenteeism. With that insight, you could make smarter decisions about solving the problem.
Plus, this would work the other way around, too. By giving your nurse access to attendance records, he or she would be able to get a better picture of a student’s health history, including how frequently the student has been seriously ill to the point of missing school for extended periods of time. That information could help the nurse to make better decisions regarding the student’s health, or make recommendations to the student about consulting a doctor.
In this way, sharing health information between your student information system and the nurse’s office becomes a positive cycle, with your SIS acting as a crucial tool in helping your students to attend school more regularly.
Bad grades are another factor that contributes to chronic absenteeism.
How often have you seen this scenario: after a report card, a student realizes that she/he is failing or performing poorly. Suddenly, the student starts missing school.
Even with a progress report midway between report cards, students may have a tough time accepting or understanding the seriousness of the situation if it’s not right in front of them on a daily basis. The result is inaction, with students not fully committing to making the necessary changes.
Then, when the next report cards come out, failing students are even more demoralized, feeling that it’s too late to bring up their grades.
Could an SIS solve this issue?
By giving students access to more details about their grades and progress all along the way, you remove the “report card surprise” from the equation. Yes, students get grades back on each test, but if they’re able to see the full picture, it will have a bigger effect on their understanding of the situation earlier in the year. In turn, they will be more motivated to make positive changes like studying more or seeking academic help.
On a similar-but-different point, we should mention student accountability as a supposed cause of chronic absenteeism.
It’s important not to underestimate your students. Sometimes, with chronically absent kids (particularly high school students), it’s easy to get the impression that they either don’t understand the importance of attendance or that they simply don’t care. But consider the way in which you communicate attendance to these students.
Similar to bad grades, if you only warn a student about the number of days she or he has missed after that number has climbed to a seemingly insurmountable height, the student may get disheartened and feel that it’s too late to correct the behavior. Alternatively, the student may think, “Well, this is the first warning, so I must be fine.”
In either case, the way you communicate (or fail to communicate) the problem to the student plays a negative role in how the student perceives the situation. The problem, then, has less to do with accountability and more to do with perception.
If, however, you keep students informed all along the way, letting them know from the very beginning that a problem is developing, then they may be more likely to take accountability. Chronically absent students will understand the seriousness of the problem (knowing that it’s been happening all along) and will feel like it’s not too late to fix it (because in the earlier months of the school year, it won’t take a herculean effort to rectify the situation).
Just like with bad grades, granting students access to their attendance records through your SIS is a powerful, effective way to communicate the problem. If students can track their own progress, they will feel empowered to make changes in their own behavior, and to do so before it’s too late.
In thinking about all the reasons why it’s important to empower students by keeping them informed every step of the way, it’s just as important (if not more important) to keep parents informed with the same frequency.
Attendance is all about getting students from point A (the home) to point B (the school). Just as you are trying to tackle the problem at school, you need an informed, empowered partner to work on the problem from the other side. That’s where the parents and guardians come in.
Guardians have a lot of power — if not most of the power — to help correct chronic absenteeism. By giving parents access to their child’s information, you paint a more vivid picture of what’s really going on. With this knowledge, parents can become empowered and motivated to improve their student’s attendance at school.
It’s also worth noting that giving parents direct access to the student’s school information allows you to overcome another problem that often arises with chronically absent students — important information not making it home.
Students who sense they’re in trouble sometimes fail to delivers letters from the school to the home. Embarrassment, fear of reproach, or any of a million other reasons could cause the letter to become “lost” along the way.
By opening a direct line of communication with parents and guardians, you will avoid any such problems.
In fact, communication is such an important piece of of the chronic absenteeism puzzle, that many schools even implement dedicated systems for sharing information with parents.
However you choose to go about it, keeping parents in the loop increases your odds of overcoming chronic absenteeism.
Important SIS Functionality for Dealing with Chronic Absenteeism
We’ve established that a good school management system can become a solution to chronic absenteeism. But what constitutes a “good” SIS?
As discussed above, the following are important functions to look for in an SIS:
- Connects with health information
- Empowers students to access their own records
- Keeps parents informed and involved
But what else?
Here are some critical components of a good SIS in terms of being able to combat chronic absenteeism:
Make sure your student information system is flexible enough that it is able to meet your unique school district’s needs. As discussed above, the contributing factors of chronic absenteeism in your school district are going to be different than at other school districts. If you’re able to configure your SIS to reflect your school district’s unique challenges related to repeated student absences, your school district will be better equipped to make tangible, positive progress toward overcoming chronic absenteeism.
When it comes to getting alerts to parents or even just updating your student information system, it’s imperative that you’re able to work quickly. If your SIS slows down your processes, that could be the difference between a student missing a half day versus a whole day.
Notifying parents immediately, first thing in the morning, will give them enough time to bring their students to school. If the parent isn’t notified until noon, it may be too late in the day to do anything about it.
Accuracy is perhaps the most important aspect of a good SIS. If your records aren’t accurate, then speed, flexibility, and any other attributes are irrelevant.
In order to keep accurate records for each student, the student information system should be intuitive so that it’s easy to update. It also should be convenient to update. Web-based SIS software helps with this. By operating from the cloud, you can make changes to information in the SIS from anywhere, on any device. That means you won’t be forced to put off making an update until you get to the one computer that’s connected to the system, an obstacle that can cause you to forget to make the update.
Cloud-based SIS software also allows you to make updates in real time. This not only helps with speed, but also with ensuring accuracy. If multiple teachers or administrators try to enter information at the same time in a non-cloud-based SIS, the SIS may end up omitting some of the data. But for school management systems that use the Software as a Service (SaaS) model, multiple users can update information at the same time without a problem.
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