W.Va. students behind on attendance

School is back in session, but that doesn’t necessarily mean students are going.

According to a recent study by Attendance Works, a national research organization, West Virginia students are less likely than their national peers to have good attendance. It found that 24 and 21 percent of fourth- and eighth-grade students are absent three to five times per month. The national average for fourth and eighth grade absenteeism is 19 and 20 percent, respectively.

Missing more than three days — or 10 percent — of school each month is considered chronic absenteeism and is a leading indicator of academic trouble and dropout. Attendance Works estimates 7.5 million students across the country fall into that category.

While absenteeism is the focus of the studies, its effect on student performance is the issue Attendance Works and other organizations are hoping to address.

The study, appropriately named “Absences Add Up,” links poor attendance with a lack of achievement, a thesis corroborated by the sub-par results on the National Assessment of Educational Progress for students who missed three or more days each month.

In West Virginia, students who have perfect attendance score eight to 13 points higher on math and reading tests than those who missed three or more days of school, a number reflected by national averages.

In addition to posting lower test scores, students who miss school chronically are more likely to fall behind. Attendance Works suggests that consistently missing three or more days a month will set a student back as much as two years.

The findings have prompted the organization to issue a call to action for school officials to “own the issue, mobilize their communities and drive with data.”

The state Department of Education issued a similar call Thursday, urging county superintendents to make attendance a top priority. Two counties, Logan and Cabell, have already accepted the challenge and have planned public relations campaigns to raise awareness of the issue.

Attendance Works asks superintendents to seek help from teachers on improving attendance. Mobilizing the community entails reaching out to parents, elected leaders, local businesses and other organizations to make good attendance a civic priority. Driving with data requires using data to raise public awareness, establish targets and goals, track progress and ensure accountability.

Because there are many attendance barriers in West Virginia such as health, poor transportation and unstable housing, the department hopes its call to action will spur communities to get involved.

“Improving student attendance is an essential, cost-effective but often-overlooked strategy for ensuring our students are on track to learn and succeed,” West Virgina Superintendent Chuck Heinlein said.

He said chronic absence is a problem that can be solved and that “all of us can make a difference by helping students and families feel engaged in learning and their schools.”

The department issued several strategies parents, teachers and community members can use to get involved. It urges parents to make sure their children are in school on time every day and to plan appointments before or after the regular school day.

It challenges educators to emphasize regular attendance to students and their families. And it asks community members to start local campaigns to raise awareness of the issue.

September is Attendance Awareness Month, which is a national campaign sponsored by Attendance Works.

Contact writer Samuel Speciale at sam.speciale@dailymailwv.com or 304-348-4886. Follow him at www.twitter.com/wvschools.

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