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Maryland launches campaign to improve school attendance

Call to action urges district, school and community leaders to join in reducing absenteeism

9/19/2014, 12:20 p.m.
The Maryland State Department of Education (MSDE) has launched a multi-faceted campaign to combat chronic absenteeism in public schools.

— The Maryland State Department of Education (MSDE) has launched a multi-faceted campaign to combat chronic absenteeism in public schools.

MDSE is partnering with Attendance Works, a national nonprofit, to declare September as “Attendance Awareness Month.” MSDE will work with local school systems and leaders to get students in school, keep them there, and move them along the track to college and career.

“Students can’t succeed if they aren’t in class. With the support of our local systems and the tools available through Attendance Works, we can strengthen student success and boost student graduation rates,” said State Superintendent of Schools Lillian Lowery. “Maryland attendance rates have improved, and we have more work to do.”

Hedy Chang, director of Attendance Works, praised Maryland’s action.

“Attendance Works applauds the Maryland State Department of Education for its leadership and deep commitment to ensuring schools and communities work together to reduce chronic absence,” Chang said. “MSDE exemplifies how a state department of education can use its data and its influence to ensure all students are in school so they have the opportunity to learn and succeed.”

Chronic absenteeism in Maryland means missing more than 20 days during the school year for any reason. Research shows that being chronically absent in the early grades affects whether a low-income child learns to read. By middle school, attendance is a key indicator of a student’s potential to drop out. A study by the Baltimore Education Research Consortium shows that the majority of dropouts enter the 9th grade with a pattern of chronic absence that dates back several years. In Maryland last year, more than 80,000 students had 20 or more absences both excused and unexcused. Research also indicates that kindergartners have similar rates of absenteeism as 9th graders. Attendance Works today released a report detailing the correlation between attendance and achievement. It can be found at www.attendanceworks.org.

The good news is that educators and community leaders, working together can, make a difference. In partnership with Attendance Works, MSDE is making available a wealth of tools and strategies that can be used to fight chronic absenteeism. For district leaders, it is important to provide data and offer support, including the development of a plan to prioritize district needs. School leaders must make attendance a priority and provide resources to implement effective attendance plans. Community leaders and partners can support district and school efforts by linking community resources— including after- school, health, mentoring, family support, and food and nutrition programs— to meet student needs.

September has been selected as Attendance Awareness Month because attendance patterns in September offer a strong indicator of expected trends for the rest of the school year. Using the month of September for the campaign will raise awareness about chronic absenteeism and the State will launch the Maryland Attendance Matters Campaign, with tools, resources and ongoing support to districts, schools, and communities.

“We know that when students are in school and engaged in the learning process, they are much more likely to graduate college and career-ready,” Dr. Lowery said. “To reach that goal, we need the commitment of the entire community.”

Attendance Works includes on its website a variety of tools that can be used to help strengthen attendance. Information can be found at http://www.attendanceworks.org/what-works/