It’s not a difficult concept to grasp: if students aren’t in class, they aren’t learning.
But the number of students absent on a regular basis has Indiana school officials like Danica McClendon concerned.
"Usually attendance is the first red flag that there are some barriers or issues that we need to address with the students or the families," said McClendon, a social worker at Southridge High School.
The results of a new study released Wednesday showed 55,200 Indiana students are missing so much school their grades are suffering, putting them a step closer to dropping out.
Here is how the study breaks down, according to the Center for Evaluation and Education Policy at Indiana University.
Students at the highest risk are missing 10% of the school year. That breaks down to 18 days per year, and an average of two days per month. The study found that missed class time has lifelong academic effects.
"We have not looked at the data in this manner, so it is a new way to look at this issue that has primarily gone unnoticed," said Terry Spradlin, the IU Center's director of education policy.
McClendon said a student missing class may not be as simple as a parent or caregiver not making sure they go. She said there could be many factors playing a roll.
"It could have a lot to do with poverty. It could have a lot to do with homelessness, mental health," said McClendon. "There could be just a lot of family problems."
McClendon said there are programs to entice kids to come to class. Random drawings for free lunches, alarm clocks and even movie tickets are used to motivate kids to be there every day.
"The more support, the more incentives, the more active the community is and parents are involved and everyone sees it is an issue. I think it would definitely help students."
McClendon said it was important for schools and parents to act before it’s too late.
"I am glad it is getting a lot of attention because it is definitely important," said McClendon."If you are not in school you cannot learn and that is the bottom line."
Here are the steps the survey is recommending Indiana takes:
- Amend the state's definition of attendance to outline the difference between chronic absence and truancy.
- Count days missed for suspensions or expulsions as absences.
- Encourage districts to develop consistent definitions between excused and unexcused absences.
- Track chronic absence numbers and report them to the state
- Finally, launch a campaign highlighting the connection between attendance and achievement.
A campaign is now underway to emphasize the importance of going to class.