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### Enhancing School Policy: The Crucial Importance of Attendance photo by .

This article was co-authored by Sue Fothergill, a senior fellow based in Baltimore working with the national organization Attendance Works and advocating for school reform, both nationally and in Maryland.

The age-old adage states that 90% of success in life stems from mere presence. This sentiment holds true, especially when considering the profound impact of absenteeism during the formative years of kindergarten and early grades on a child’s academic prospects.

Presently, chronic absenteeism, typically defined as missing 10% or more of school days for any reason, is a prevalent issue across all grade levels. Recent reports highlight a concerning trend where a significant number of students are frequently absent. In 2023, a staggering percentage of students were classified as chronically absent. Similarly, in Maryland during 2022, a substantial portion of elementary and middle schools reported chronic absenteeism rates exceeding 20%, with even higher rates observed in high schools.

Notably, economically disadvantaged students and those with disabilities are disproportionately affected by this phenomenon.

Furthermore, the disillusionment among many parents with the public (and private) school systems has led to a notable exodus. Despite the challenges exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic, attributing the chronic absenteeism crisis solely to this factor would be oversimplified.

The root causes of chronic absenteeism are multifaceted and diverse. For younger children, factors such as health issues, caregiver constraints linked to poverty, and the misconception that missing early schooling has minimal impact on a child’s educational journey contribute to this issue. As students progress through the educational hierarchy, reasons for absenteeism evolve, often involving anxiety and feelings of inadequacy compared to their peers.

Addressing chronic absenteeism necessitates a multi-pronged approach. Organizations like Attendance Works, a prominent national entity focusing on absenteeism, have outlined comprehensive strategies to combat this problem. These strategies encompass initiatives such as enhancing parent engagement, implementing early warning systems, providing adequate health and mental health services, and optimizing transportation facilities.

Despite these efforts, progress in mitigating chronic absenteeism has been gradual. National and state authorities acknowledge the persistent challenges associated with this issue.

Given the financial constraints, policymakers are increasingly emphasizing the importance of reducing chronic absenteeism in the early grades, including [ppp1] initiatives. Early intervention is crucial, especially considering the significant number of chronically absent students in Maryland. Research underscores the detrimental effects of absenteeism in the early years on crucial skills like reading proficiency, academic progression, and behavioral outcomes.

In Maryland, interventions targeting early absenteeism align with the directives of interim state schools superintendent Carey Wright. Wright’s emphasis on addressing chronic absenteeism underscores the urgency of the situation.

Effective measures to curb early absenteeism should commence with robust family support mechanisms. Educators and studies highlight the pivotal role of early intervention and parental involvement in fostering regular attendance among young learners. Detecting attendance issues early and providing families with necessary support are imperative steps in this process.

Teacher anecdotes underscore the dedication of educators who go the extra mile by personally engaging with families facing attendance challenges. However, the burden on teachers to address absenteeism single-handedly is unrealistic. Research advocates for designated professionals like school system pupil personnel workers to conduct home visits, offer parental guidance, and facilitate connections with community support programs.

Local school systems in Maryland, exemplified by Anne Arundel County, have undertaken commendable efforts to combat chronic absenteeism. These initiatives involve collaborative efforts across schools, proactive leadership from principals, data-driven approaches to identify absence patterns, and community engagement to leverage additional resources.

Despite these localized efforts, the shortage of funding poses a significant obstacle, particularly concerning truancy courts. Pilot programs aimed at addressing truancy issues are underway in Maryland, albeit with limited resources. Legislative measures seeking to expand these initiatives are essential to bolstering support for families and schools.

Standardizing effective programs, providing technical assistance, and enhancing data collection are crucial tasks for the Maryland State Department of Education. Models like [ppp2] serve as benchmarks for removing truancy cases from juvenile courts while reinforcing family, school, and community interventions.

Federal aid plays a pivotal role in supporting absenteeism programs, a facet that requires greater attention even within the Blueprint for Maryland’s Future.

In conclusion, reducing chronic absenteeism is a complex endeavor intertwined with broader economic and social challenges. However, concerted efforts, particularly focusing on the early grades, offer a pathway to progress.

It is imperative for policymakers to prioritize addressing chronic absenteeism as a critical imperative for the betterment of our educational system.