Research from the UChicago Consortium shows that attendance contributes more than any other factor to course failure and low grades. College-ready students—those who have the best chance of enrolling and persisting in college—have average attendance rates of 98 percent, meaning they miss less than a week over the course of the entire school year. Yet 30 percent of ninth-graders in Chicago are chronically absent, attending school less than 90 percent of the time. Each week of absence per semester in ninth grade is associated with a more than 20 percentage point decline in the probability of graduating from high school. Inspired by this research, the UChicago Charter School began the 2015-16 school year with a laser-like focus on achieving 98 percent attendance for all students with daily calls home, newsletters, and posters reminding students and families of the importance of attendance, as well as events celebrating strong attendance including an “attenDANCE” dance. These efforts paid off: two campuses achieved 96 percent and 97 percent attendance for the 2015-16 school year and every campus saw an improvement over the previous year.
Why It Matters
Although research confirms that not failing is largely a function of consistently showing up, schools and families too often overlook the seriousness of missing even a few days of school. Concerted school- and community-level efforts to focus on attendance can improve high school graduation rates and, ultimately, help us reach our national goal of 90 percent on-time high school graduation by 2020 while setting our students up for college success.