School Every Day is life changing


Did you know that one of the strongest predictors of student success or failure is, on the surface, one that seems easy to do? Chronic Absenteeism — missing 15 or more days in a school year, just two or three days a month — leads to a host of academic ailments. Here's how you can help.

By Suzanne Mulcahy,
Assistant Superintendent of Curriculum, Instruction and Student Support

What are the strongest predictors of student success? Ask anyone and you’ll hear a common list: intelligence, work ethic, family income, access to early education.

It turns out that one of the strongest predictors is, on the surface, one that seems easy to do: show up.

Data show that students who miss 10 percent of the school year — a couple of days a month — are far likelier to end up far behind their peers who make it to class.

For example, reading at grade level by the 3rd grade is considered an important marker in a child’s learning development. Data from a California study that tracked students from K to grade 3 showed:

  • 64 percent of students with good attendance in grades K and 1 were reading proficiently by grade 3, and
  • Only 17 percent of students who were chronically absent in grades K and 1 were proficient in reading by grade 3.

That gap is startling. And like a boulder rolling down a hill, a dangerous momentum can build with successive years of chronic absence — poor grades, dropping out of school, lower persistence in college.

Early intervention is key, which is why Hawaii added chronic absenteeism (defined as missing 15 or more days per school year) at the elementary level to its first state-designed performance system, Strive HI. By simply shining a light on it as part of our public data tracking, communities were galvanized and we saw some early success — in one year Hawai‘i reduced the number of chronically absent elementary students from 18 percent to 11 percent. That improved achievement prospects for more than 5,500 students. 

In September, we’ll be releasing 2016-17 absenteeism data for all grade spans — elementary, middle and high schools — as part of our updated Strive HI System that also satisfies requirements of the new federal law, the Every Student Succeeds Act. But you don’t have to wait for the data to help. There are students slipping through the cracks right now, and we want to catch them all. 

Again, on the surface this is a problem that seems easy to solve. But in fact, it’s complicated. Absences pile up in rural communities where it’s harder to cover the distance to school. Homeless and transient students will move around a lot. Children may be pulled for ailments that don’t require home care. 

At the state level, we’re expanding Whole Child programs to meet students’ physical and emotional health needs — programs such as Hawai'i Keiki Healthy and Ready to Learn, our partnership with UH-Manoa Nursing to add school-based health services. 

Caring communities can make the greatest difference, and awareness campaigns can have real impact. 

This year, the Kea‘au-Ka‘ū-Pāhoa Complex Area on Hawai‘i Island launched “Challenge 5” to get all of its students down to no more than five absences in a school year. It’s a mix of school competition, social media campaigning and community outreach. 

“One thing we struggle with is a lot of transiency,” said Keonepoko El counselor Brad Asakura to the West Hawaii Tribune. “So the attractive thing about having something like this — a positive attendance initiative — is to give our kids common goals, no matter which school they go to.” 

Another campaign that’s working is in the Windward District, where social workers launched a video contest — “Be Pono, Be in School” — to rally schools, families and the community behind school every day, offering cash and prizes for clever, student-created public service announcements. In one year, 22 of 23 schools dropped their chronic absenteeism rate. 

Want to learn how you can make a difference? The Attendance Works website has modules for teaching good attendance, tips for families and the community, awareness campaign materials, the latest research on absenteeism and much more: 

Our kids need to know that when they’re not in school, they’re missed! It is often just that simple. A caring family member, school volunteer, office staff member, security guard, crossing guard, administrator and/or teacher can make the difference. The video above from Attendance Works shows how it’s done in the classroom. 

This is a problem we can solve! Share your efforts during Attendance Awareness Month during September and beyond with #SchoolEveryDay.


Click to download a poster-size version of this infographic from Attendance Works.

Attendance Works graphic poster

​A problem we can solve together

Read Supt. Christina Kishimoto's Supt's Corner column on chronic absenteeism.


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