Truancy: An Unexcused Long-Term Cost

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Educators know a student’s achievement and success in school is dependent on many factors outside of a school district’s control, one major factor being whether or not a student is present every day for class. Obviously, time spent absent from class during instruction hurts a student’s chance to succeed, but schools across the nation are facing the increasing challenge of student truancy. In 2012, an estimated 7.5 million students were chronically absent nationwide, and, according to several studies, low-income students and English Language Learners were more likely to be absent.

Last summer the Center for American Progress issued “The High Cost of Truancy”, a report outlining just how costly truancy is for individual students, schools and their communities. Authors Farah Z. Ahmad and Tiffany D. Miller discuss research around costs and causes of truancy, but more importantly provide examples of successfully implemented programs through cited district case studies.

“Students who miss 10 percent of days in a school year or more are the most likely to suffer lower academic performance in subsequent school years. Further, the effect that missing school has on academic achievement compounds over time, with each year of schooling becoming harder and harder to complete when students have had incomplete schooling in the years prior.”

What’s the cause of truancy in schools? That’s not always easy to pin down. There are a variety of factors at play and each individual student’s situation is different. Dale Bailey, Ph.D. is a school psychologist, educational consultant and co-founder of Fluency Plus LLC, an education company which specializes in providing educational and behavioral intervention services to children, families, and school personnel. On the topic of truancy, he states:

“Truancy is a behavior, not a conduct problem. It’s a serious behavioral concern that directly affects academic achievement as much as, or more than, other more serious behaviors. Suspension invariably creates a sense of alienation with the school family. As students begin to feel unwelcome in school, they fall into a pattern of academic failure, begin avoiding school occasionally and ultimately drop out altogether.”

Ahmad and Miller also state in their report that punitive policies like suspension in schoolchildren’s early years has lasting negative effects on a student’s K-12 success and beyond..

“By as early as Sixth grade, high truancy rates become a distinct predictor of whether or not a student will graduate from high school…Truants have a higher high school dropout rate because, in many cases, dropping out is easier than catching up.”

Other school characteristics causing truancy are the fear of bullying or harassment in school; peer pressure; an unsafe school environment; poor school culture; school size, ineffective school attendance policies; poor record keeping or not informing a parent or guardian of truancy; and poor identification of special education needs. In addition, individual family and home life factors affect truancy, such as a lack of family support; poor home conditions; parents who do not highly value education; child abuse or neglect; siblings who performed poorly in school; a large number of household members; chronically ill parents; low parental education attainment; teen pregnancy or parenthood; homelessness; unreliable transportation; and having a family criminal history or an incarcerated parent.

So how do we solve this problem? Ahmad and Miller list several recommendations at the national, state, local, and individual school district level to help curb this truancy issue.

1. Create a national definition for truancy. Developing a single definition of truancy, chronic truancy, and chronic absenteeism is crucial in order to increase transparency between states and schools, and for identifying trends or solutions to the problem.
2. Improve data collection for early warning systems. Early warning systems use up-to-date data to pin-point students who are at risk of falling behind. The system typically alerts educators so that they can appropriately intervene and support students. These systems can play an important role in reducing truancy rates, thus increasing high school graduation rates. In order to be successful, early warning systems need the most accurate and timely data possible.
3. Increase wrap-around services and align them with student needs. Data collection systems and accurate reports are only useful if they’re aligned with the appropriate interventions to combat truancy. Behavior support tools like BehaviorPlus for Tier 2 and Tier 3 offer school personnel a wide range of computer automated resources needed to guide them in effectively responding to behaviorally at-risk youth by first utilizing a series of comprehensive assessment tools designed to drill-down to the school and family variables that predict and maintain patterns of behavioral misconduct, including truancy. The BehaviorPlus format includes a comprehensive plan with over 100 different prevention, teaching, reinforcement and corrective strategies required for increasing productive behavior patterns.

In the New York City Case study, Ahmad and Miller state that,“The mentorship programs proved to be most effective. In the most successful quartile of participating schools, chronically absent student supported by mentors increased attendance, on average, by more than one month of school. The Baltimore and Harford case studies also use mentorship programs.

4. Reduce punitive policies. Schools, districts and states should evaluate their zero-tolerance and anti-truancy policies and make punitive punishment something of last resort. Instead, support systems to encourage attendance, or incentive programs should be put in place.
5. Conduct outreach to family and parents on the risks of truancy. Because truancy is often caused in part by factors at home, schools should consider initiatives to reach out to parents and guardians of students at risk for truancy and to increase parental involvement and education in anti-truancy programs. BehaviorPlus is designed to involve the family throughout the behavioral support process.

To read the entire report from The Center for American Progress, click the link below.
The High Cost of Truancy
By Farah Z. Ahmad and Tiffany Miller, August 2015

If you’d like to learn more about how BehaviorPlus helps districts create, manage and track behavior plans for basic, Tier 2 and Tier 3 behavior interventions, contact us today.

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