School attendance matters

Published 10:32 am Friday, October 7, 2016

Shelia Berger

Sumner Principal

Did you know that missing as few as ten percent of the school days puts a student at risk for not graduating from high school? Much has been said about the achievement gap but frequently overlooked is the attendance gap. “Across the country an estimated 5 million to 7.5 million students are missing nearly a month of school and suffering academically for it.” (Healthy Schools Campaign,

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Austin Public Schools became so concerned about attendance that a special task force was created almost two years ago. The task force has examined attendance data over the past decade and confirms that the attendance rate of students is declining. The task force examined the various reasons that students miss school, when students miss school, ie: Monday, Friday, etc. The data was clear that there are a growing number of students that miss more than ten percent of a school year. What was not as clear was how does the district address this issue?

Last year, Sumner Elementary decided to look at alternatives to punishment for students that are frequently absent. State statute is very clear about the expectations for attendance, but the resolutions are not as clear. As the school examined possible solutions, one program from the University of Minnesota rose to the top of the considerations. Check & Connect, a comprehensive student engagement intervention, was started this year.

A Check & Connect team was established consisting of a teacher, the school principal, Success Coaches and a social worker. This summer members of the team attended a two-day training at the University of Minnesota followed by implementation this August. The Sumner staff was trained as to what signs to watch for in their new students.

The Check & Connect program includes weekly visits with students focused on setting goals for engagement at school, weekly parent connections, and reviewing data including attendance.  The district’s task force will be updated as to the results of this new intervention. Early results appear to be having a positive effect on student engagement. Hopefully these strong relationships at school will also cause an increase in daily attendance rates.