Why September Matters

Looking for an easy way to identify students who might fall behind because they miss too much school? Try looking at attendance in the first month of school.

A new study from the Baltimore Education Research Consortium shows that absenteeism in the first month of school can predict poor attendance patterns throughout the year, providing an early warning sign for parents and educators to intervene and put students back on track.

Why September Matters: Improving Student Attendance, by Linda S. Olson, examines attendance in the Baltimore City Public Schools for pre-kindergarten through 12th grade students in September and throughout the rest of the 2012-13 school year. The study found:

  •  Students who missed fewer than 2 days in September typically had good attendance rates for the entire year.
  •  Half the students who missed 2-4 days in September went on to miss a month or more of school, which is known as chronic absence.
  • Nearly 9 out of 10 students who missed more than 4 days in September were chronically absent that year.

This early-in-the-year warning indicator gives teachers and principals a chance to intervene early before students miss so many days that they are falling behind academically. It also makes an effective message for parents about the importance of developing good attendance habits starting on the first day. Our Attendance Awareness Month partnership is motivated by a desire to engage parents, schools and community organizations early on to the pernicious effects of chronic absence.

Past studies from BERC and other researchers demonstrate that missing that much school—in excused or unexcused absences, in elementary school and in high school—has negative consequences for academic achievement. Chronic absence as early as pre-K is associated with poor reading skills and retention in third grade. By the 6th grade, it is considered an early warning indicator that a student will drop out of high school. For schools, high absenteeism rates can slow down classroom instruction and diminish school climate.

Missing more than 20 days in a school year, essentially a month of school, is an indicator of disengagement, especially in the middle and high school years. In the early grades, absenteeism often reflects family and community conditions, such as a lack of access to good health care, unreliable transportation, unstable housing or a dangerous walk to school.

Copies of the full report  including recommendations can be found on BERC’s website.

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