In 1852, Massachusetts became the first U.S. state to make school attendance mandatory. Every child between the ages of eight and fourteen was required to go to class for at least three months out of the year. The government fined families $20 for truancy, which is approximately $622 in today’s dollars.
Those Massachusetts legislators were onto something. Recent studies have shown that absenteeism is of the biggest barriers to student success. Chronically absent pupils are more likely to drop out of school and less engaged in their coursework. According to the recent report “Absences Add Up,” conducted by Attendance Works, students with higher absenteeism rates score lower on national standardized tests. This result held true across “every age, in every demographic group, and in every state and city tested.”
Unfortunately, absenteeism is common in United States schools. Researchers estimate the chronic absenteeism rate, defined as missing 10% of the school year for any reason, to be as high as 15%. That translates to 7.5 million students missing a total of 1,215,000,000 days of class each year. That’s 1,215,000,000 missed opportunities to improve a young person’s future. We must do better as a society to reduce this problem.
As someone who’s worked in education for 13 years, I’ve noticed that students become disengaged when they believe their school work doesn’t connect to their future plans, like getting a job. In a related study conducted by Civic Enterprises, researchers talked to high school dropouts in 25 locations across the United States. Eighty-one percent of these dropouts said that if the classroom were made more relevant to their lives, they would have stayed in school. If a student doesn’t understand the relationship between their school work and their future, they will probably see no reason to attend class or to struggle through homework.
As one dropout quoted in the Civic Enterprises study said, “If they related to me more and understand that at that point in time, my life was … what I was going through, where I lived, where I came from. Who knows? That book might have been in my book bag. I might have bought a book bag and done some work.”
Some students won’t understand or recognize the relationship between school work and their future in the workforce unless they are engaged in ways that build and encourage this understanding. When a student has a goal, a personalized education plan can engage the student in the process so they understand why they’re doing homework. Even though goals may change over time, this focus on working towards something and understanding the relationship between the work and the outcome will improve absenteeism and success in education.
That’s one of the reasons why we created eScholar myTrack, an education data dashboard for students, parents, and teachers. myTrack can engage each student with a personalized plan to help them achieve their goals. Goals engage students, fostering an innate desire to attend school each day which will reduce school absenteeism. Here’s a demonstration of how myTrack helped a student named Bobby:
School absenteeism has been around for hundreds of years but that doesn’t mean it’s inherent to our education system. Now we have technologies that can provide the right information at the right time to assist educational stakeholders in improving student outcomes. Let’s help improve a student’s future 1,215,000,000 times over.