Count ME In is releasing an infographic today, entitled “Attendance Matters.” We all want our children to succeed in school and to achieve their full potential. Recent studies have shown that when it comes to school attendance, every day counts. Students who miss more than 10 percent of school days (18 days per school year) meet the definition of being chronically absent. This includes both excused and unexcused absences. Research has found these students are more likely to be at least one school year behind their peers academically and are at greater risk of dropping out of high school. Students understandably miss school for many issues including asthma, bullying, homelessness or unreliable transportation, for which a punitive response is not appropriate. What can help in minimizing unnecessary absenteeism, though, is educators working with families to share the importance of attendance and to address the underlying problems that lead to absences.
Chronic absenteeism is a new indicator in Maine’s accountability system as part of the federal Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA). The measure emphasizes the academic impact of missing school, and for this reason, it includes excused and unexcused absences, as well as out-of-school suspensions. Looking at instances of chronic absence, rather than at overall rates of school attendance, can help schools identify students at risk and design both individual and schoolwide strategies to reduce the number of students who are chronically absent.
Schools with 30 percent or more of their students chronically absent cannot keep pace with schools where nearly all students are attending school almost every day. Fortunately, there are proven strategies for schools to make progress towards the goal that 5 percent or less of students are chronically absent. The entire community improves when all young people, regardless of family income or grade in school, are engaged in this way in their education.
The Maine Children’s Alliance is collaborating with Count ME In to raise awareness and further the goal of reducing student chronic absenteeism. Count ME In works with schools, families, state and community organizations to 1) create a positive culture of attendance among children as soon as they start school; 2) monitor student absences and identify students who are at-risk or chronically absent; 3) identify, assess and implement strategies to overcome barriers affecting school attendance, and 4) track effectiveness.
Maine’s rate of chronic absenteeism is 15.8 percent. For the 446 elementary schools in Maine, the average rate of chronically absent students was 13.9 percent. For 112 of Maine’s secondary schools, the average rate for these schools was 23.1 percent.. National data also shows that secondary school students are more likely to be chronically absent than elementary students.
What Can Be Done?
A number of the schools with low rates of students who are chronically absent have worked with Count Me In to change school culture and implement other strategies to improve attendance. Schools that fully implemented the Count ME In program have decreased their chronic absentee rate by an average of 25%. As a result, more students in these schools are attending and engaging successfully in their learning. For a list of schools in Maine who have fully implemented the Count ME In program, see below, or for information about how your school can work with Count ME In, contact Susan Lieberman, Project Director – firstname.lastname@example.org.
- MSAD 60, Lebanon Schools: Patti Gilley, Principal
- Portland Public Schools, East End Community School: Boyd Marley, Principal
- Medway School Department, Medway Middle School: Dawn Pray, Superintendent and Harriet Cyr, Principal
Count ME In is an exciting partnership of schools, businesses, parents, youth, state and community organizations working to improve student attendance, engagement and academic achievement. Learn more at www.countmeinmaine.org.
Maine Children’s Alliance is a nonpartisan, nonprofit organization that advocates for sound public policies and promotes best practices for Maine children, youth and families. Learn more at www.mekids.org.
 Note that this is an average of the schools, and not an average of students, so small schools with less than 100 students count the same in computing the average by school, as do schools with over 1000 students.
 The rate for middle schools was not calculated because middle schools were sometimes part of K-8 schools and sometimes part of secondary schools, grades 6 -12 and sometimes were stand-alone schools. So, middle school students were counted in the elementary if the schools were either K-8, or 5-8, and were counted as part of the secondary school if the school was grades 6 – 12.