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Chronic absenteeism rates are highest in high school, with one in three students missing at least 10 percent of their school days.

3 tips to combat chronic absenteeism in high schools


Chronic absenteeism rates are highest in high school, with approximately one in three students missing at least 10 percent of their school days

Key points:

One surefire way to support student success? Consistent, positive family communication.

In elementary school, there’s frequent outreach. A recent report found that this wanes somewhat throughout middle school, and, by the time students reach high school, many schools subscribe to the belief that the need for school-to-home communication diminishes. The prevailing notion is that high school students are learning to be independent, therefore their home adults should be less involved.

However, data reveals a sobering reality: chronic absenteeism rates are highest in high school, with approximately one in three students missing at least 10 percent of their school days. This alarming trend jeopardizes students’ academic achievement, graduation prospects, and life outcomes. Dropping out of high school is linked to poorer health outcomes, significantly fewer opportunities in the labor market, and an increased likelihood of entering the criminal justice system.

Given the numbers, the idea that communication becomes less crucial as students age is counter-intuitive. In fact, maintaining consistent and tailored communication channels is pivotal during adolescence. Teenagers face numerous challenges–academic pressures, social dynamics, identity exploration–that can contribute to disengagement and absenteeism. Hedy Chang, executive director of Attendance Works, connects the high levels of chronic absenteeism to a broken connection between students and school.

One essential mechanism for repairing that connection is family communication. Here are some ideas for how to rebuild the relationship between home and school appropriate for high school students.

Leverage multiple communication channels

While traditional methods like newsletters and parent-teacher conferences remain valuable, incorporating popular technologies such as text messaging, social media, and mobile apps can enhance engagement and reach students and families where they are.

A recent study on adolescent loneliness suggests that light-touch, low-cost interventions focused on attendance can pay dividends. Strategies like sending families statistics about the impacts of absenteeism and collaboratively developing attendance plans have proven effective. These types of targeted communication efforts empower families as partners in prioritizing consistent attendance.

Tailor messaging to student interests

Rather than generic communications, personalize messages to align with students’ interests, goals, and aspirations. This increases relevance and demonstrates that the school understands and values each student’s unique perspectives.

Data shows many students have untapped talents in high-demand fields–but lack exposure. Facilitating “Career-Connected Learning” through communication with industry and community partners is a great way to make school immediately relevant to high school students. Coordinating job shadowing, internships, and career exploration activities exposes students to inspiring futures worth attending school for daily. When they see a clear path from classroom to career, attendance improves.

Communication should never be a one-way street. Create opportunities for students and families to provide feedback, share concerns, and actively participate in decision-making processes that affect their educational experiences. Ensure that communications are culturally responsive and inclusive, acknowledging and celebrating the diversity within the school community. One crucial way to do this is to ensure that all communications can be shared in a family’s home language.

This helps foster a sense of belonging and strengthens the school-home connection.

Think Multi-Tiered Systems of Support

To combat chronic absenteeism, a tiered approach leveraging strategic communication is ideal.

At Tier 1, implementing universal data tracking systems enables early identification of attendance patterns, allowing for proactive, personalized outreach before issues escalate. Positive messaging campaigns that tout the benefits of coming to school and promote engaging programs inspire students to attend.

For moderately chronically absent students (Tier 2), conducting individualized meetings and offering mentorship facilitates open dialogue to understand the root causes of attendance struggles. It’s also crucial to communicate about available support resources like counseling.

For severe chronic absenteeism cases (Tier 3), coordinated two-way communication between schools and families builds trust. Schools can connect them with vital services–such as mental health counseling and transportation assistance–to overcome significant barriers to attendance.

Students engaged through inclusive dialogue feel supported and empowered to overcome hurdles preventing daily attendance. By prioritizing consistent, personalized, and career-minded communication at all tier levels, high schools can combat alarming chronic absenteeism rates.

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