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Front Page News

August 31, 2016


School Attendance:  Every Day Counts

Submitted By Dr. John Freeman, Superintendent of Schools SAU 51


What better time to think about school attendance than the beginning of the school year?  The national and state-level advocacy group Attendance Works advises us that absenteeism in the first month of school can predict poor attendance throughout the school year.  Half the students who miss two to four days in September are likely to go on to miss nearly a month of school by the end of the school year.  And this projection makes no distinction between “excused” and “unexcused” absences.


Though the reasons for good attendance seem obvious, Attendance Works points out that attending school regularly is essential to students gaining the academic and social skills they need to succeed. Reducing absenteeism is a simple, cost-effective, but often overlooked strategy for improving academic performance. Starting as early as preschool and kindergarten, chronic absence—missing ten percent of the academic year—can leave third graders unable to read proficiently, sixth graders struggling with coursework and high school students off track for graduation.


It’s hard to argue with the logic that school attendance contributes to student success.  In Pittsfield, many of our students experience these negative impacts of poor attendance:  elementary and middle school students falling needlessly behind in their literacy and math development as well as many high school students falling needlessly off track for graduation with their peers in four years.


During its August meeting, our Pittsfield School Board reviewed attendance data for the 2015-2016 school year and learned, among other things, that chronic absenteeism is defined as missing 10% of school days, or eighteen total days per year (that’s just two days per month).  National estimates conservatively conclude that about 10% of U.S. students are chronically absent from school.  Sadly, at PES fifty-one or 18% of our students fell into this category last year, as did seventy-five or 29% of our PMHS students. 


Of course, we don’t want our children and youth to be coming to school when sick, but we simply must do a better job in supporting the academic and life-long success of our students by improving school attendance in Pittsfield!


From their national perspective, Attendance Works also finds that 10% of kindergarten and first grade students are chronically absent.  Families may unintentionally minimize the importance of these early grades, sometimes recalling what kindergarten was like years ago.  Currently, kindergarten and first grade provide students with critical literacy and numeracy skills and attitudes. Poor attendance strongly influences the development of foundation skills that have a long-term impact in reading, writing, and math skill development.


By the time our boys and girls are in sixth grade, chronic absence becomes a leading indicator that a student will drop out of high school.  When students improve their attendance rates, they improve their academic prospects and chances for graduating.  Sadly, low-income students are four times more likely to be chronically absent than others, often for reasons beyond their control.  This last factor further skews an already uneven playing field for many of our students.


So for this new school year, Pittsfield families are encouraged to make school attendance a top priority to keep children and youth from falling behind.  In fact, some research concludes that school attendance may be the single most critical factor influencing success in school.  By ensuring good school attendance this year, families can take an important step – maybe the most important step – in supporting school success; it also sets a good example for a lifetime habit that will also support success far beyond the school years.






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