Academic journal article School Community Journal

Getting Students to School: Using Family and Community Involvement to Reduce Chronic Absenteeism

Academic journal article School Community Journal

Getting Students to School: Using Family and Community Involvement to Reduce Chronic Absenteeism

Article excerpt

Abstract

Students who are chronically absent are more likely than other students to drop out of school. Many schools have goals to reduce student truancy and to help chronically absent students attend school regularly. Few studies, however, have focused on whether or how family and community involvement help reduce rates of chronic absenteeism. In this longitudinal study, data were collected from 39 schools on rates of chronic absenteeism and on specific family and community involvement activities that were implemented to reduce this serious problem for student learning. Results indicate that school, family, and community partnership practices can significantly decrease chronic absenteeism, even after school level and prior rates of absenteeism are taken into account. In particular, communicating with families about attendance, celebrating good attendance with students and families, and connecting chronically absent students with community mentors measurably reduced students' chronic absenteeism from one year to the next. Also, schools that conducted a greater total number of attendance-focused activities were more likely to decrease the percentage of students who missed twenty or more days of school each year.

Key Words: student attendance, truancy, parental involvement, school outreach programs

Introduction

Schools and school districts across the country are concerned with improving or maintaining student attendance. According to the U. S. Department of Education (1998), 15% of public school teachers report that student absenteeism is a "serious problem" at their school. Efforts to get students to school range from the use of enticements such as ice cream to threats of imprisonment for parents or guardians of chronically truant students (Henderson, 1999). Often, decisions to employ these methods are based on anecdotal evidence, rather than empirical studies. This may be due to the fact that little research exists on school programs or practices to improve student attendance (Corville-Smith, 1995; Epstein & Sheldon, 2002).

Importance of Attendance

The paucity of research on school practices to improve attendance and reduce absenteeism is striking because truancy is associated with several important indicators of student failure and poor adjustment to school. Studies of dropouts show that leaving school is merely the culminating act of a long withdrawal process from school (Finn, 1989; National Center for Education Statistics, 2003; Newmann, Wehlage, & Lamborn, 1992), forecast by absenteeism in the early grades (Alexander, Entwisle, & Horsey, 1997; Barrington & Hendricks, 1989; Kaplan, Peck, & Kaplan, 1995; Rumberger, 1987; Rumberger, Ghatak, Poulos, Ritter, & Dornbusch, 1990). Other studies show that truancy is a strong predictor of alcohol, tobacco, and substance use in adolescents (Hallfors, Vevea, Iritani, Cho, Khatapoush, & Saxe, 2002). Finally, research indicates that students with better attendance score higher on achievement tests (Lamdin, 1996; Myers, 2000) and that schools with better rates of student attendance tend to have higher passing rates on standardized achievement tests (Ehrenberg, Ehrenberg, Rees, & Ehrenberg, 1991). Together, these studies provide convincing evidence that educators and researchers need to take seriously the issue of student absenteeism and ways to improve attendance.

School-Family-Community Approaches

Improving student attendance at school requires a holistic approach that addresses school and classroom factors, as well as factors outside of school. Several school characteristics and classroom practices are predictive of student attendance rates. Finn and Voelkl (1993) found that large schools were more likely to have attendance problems than small schools. Also, student perceptions of the classroom or teacher as chaotic, uncaring, or boring were associated with student absenteeism and truancy (Duckworth & DeJong, 1989; Roderick et al. …

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