Roughly 10% of students at New Jersey schools–about 125,000 children–missed at least 18 days of school in the 2013-2014 school year, records show. Students are at risk of falling behind in their classes and letting their grades slip. Minority or low-income students were likely to miss more than 18 days as well as students in kindergarten or high school.
Part of the problem is the state’s weather preparedness. Woodbine School District found a correlation between bad weather and student absences because no transportation is provided to and from school, said Lynda Anderson-Towns, a retired superintendent. Other causes of absenteeism included attending doctor’s visits with parents who don’t speak English, dirty uniforms, or because parents schedule vacations during the school year.
Absenteeism is a significant problem for student well-being and development. Students who miss extended periods of their classes perform poorly on tests, have delayed reading and social skills, and are more likely to drop out of school. The statistics are worse for minority students: while black students make up about 16% of New Jersey’s school population, they represented an alarming 24% of the students who suffered the highest rate of absenteeism. Hispanic students, 25% of the total enrollment, represented 30% of the absenteeism rate.
Some recommendations to improve the problem include emphasizing the importance of attendance with students and building school environments that value students’ attendance; checking over absentee information in the first few weeks of school; alerting parents to the problem more quickly; and rewarding improved attendance with prizes, certificates, or pizza parties.
Students need to stay in school to be able to learn, and the more often a student is out of school, the less likely he or she is to do well in their classes or to develop normally. School is an important part of growth and essential to a well-rounded education–so much absence from school isn’t good for anyone.