Students who are gone for two days in the first month will likely be gone that many days in the months to come — no more and no less. And it’s the same thing when it comes to those who miss up to four days. After that, however, something changes: Early absences predict a rate of missed school days that increases throughout the year.
That makes first-month attendance a vital early warning sign. It also offers an opportunity to help students who are likely to struggle with attendance with interventions — including alternative paths to graduation for those who cannot or will not attend school.
“ These results suggest that schools need to pay attention to student attendance from the earliest days in September, and intervene to get students back on track quickly,” the authors of a study supported by the Jacob and Hilda Blaustein Foundation, the Aaron and Lillie Straus Foundation, and the Wright Family Foundation wrote. Because the first few weeks of school can be a chaotic time, however, school leaders often don’t get around to focusing on chronic absences until the first few months have come and gone. By that time it can be too late.
Because these students are most likely to struggle with getting to school and staying on track, they need more support — and fast. This can come in the form of flexible alternative pathways to graduation, coaches who can help monitor their progress, or local advocates who can help them overcome the social-emotional obstacles that are preventing academic success.
The research is clear: When we listen to what students are telling us through their attendance in the first month of school — and act quickly in response — we can have a big impact on the rest of their year.