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Addressing the Factors Around Unexcused Absences

Kristen Diamond November 18, 2021

Not all absences from school are equal. Although any child who misses more than 10% of the school days in a year is at higher risk of low academic achievement, researchers are noticing differences between excused and unexcused absences.

A recent study conducted in Madison, Wisconsin, found that students whose absences were excused—which means a parent or guardian notified the school they would be out and explained why—performed on par with their peers who were in class every day, even if they missed 15 to 18 days. 

On the other hand, children with just one unexcused absence performed much worse academically than their peers with no absence. In math, for example, the average student with no absences was at the 58th percentile. The average student with just one unexcused absence was at the 38th percentile. And the average student with 18 unexcused absences were at the 17th percentile. 

What these red flags may signal

The researcher team in the Madison study included social scientists, an education researcher, and a school district leader. They weren’t convinced that simply missing school was the cause of the low achievement for the children with unexcused absences. 

So they looked into other differences unrelated to school attendance. They found that those factors—things like health condition, family income and education, and prior academic achievement—explained 88% of the relationship between having 18 unexcused absences and low test scores. 

In other words, the unexcused absences were “a powerful signal of how those out-of-school challenges affect children’s academic progress.” The researchers suggested that instead of putting additional pressure on parents, schools reach out with offers of support and provide additional resources to help those families and children with whatever is getting in the way—whether that’s transportation, housing, food, economic hardship, or medical issues. 

A helping hand from technology

Two-way communication via an automated AI texting platform can help schools respond effectively to unexcused absences. Rather than simply reminding parents of how many days their student has missed, it can be programmed to query families of chronically absent children about their well-being. As families respond, the chatbot can provide appropriate resources and responses based on information that’s already part of its automated knowledge base. 

Importantly, platforms like AllHere can handle inquiries from families at any time of the day or night—making them a reliable, consistent source of support in times of need. 

When an incoming text message from a family contains a priority topic or a question the chatbot can’t answer, it’s sent to a designated staff member for a response. This helps educators and administrators prioritize the highest-impact communication with families who need it the most.

AllHere’s innovative, novel, and evidence-based solution is proven to increase student participation in school, reduce the dropout rate, and build school engagement with students and families. Learn more about how it can help you address unexcused absences—and the challenges they signal.

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