In the aftermath of the Covid-19 pandemic the need for pediatricians and health providers to partner with schools is more urgent than ever.
We know that challenges related to poor physical, behavioral and dental health are leading reasons students miss too much school. Even when absences are excused, missing too much school can lead children to fall behind. Showing up to school is essential to graduating from high school and persisting in college. We also know that dropping out is associated with worse long-term health outcomes. Making health a priority will improve the learning experience, since healthy learners are more likely to succeed academically and become healthier adults.
It may be hard to believe, but nationwide, chronic absence has nearly doubled, increasing from 16% to nearly 30% between 2019 and 2022. State level data available from California, Ohio and Connecticut show chronic absence is especially high in kindergarten and again in high school.
This absenteeism is occurring alongside serious setbacks in academic achievement. Several reports show that the challenges of the pandemic continue to affect students’ academic progress three years after the onset of Covid-19. NWEA Research finds that at the end of the 2022–23 school year, the average student will need the equivalent of 4.1 additional months of schooling to catch up in reading and 4.5 months in math. One recent analysis suggests chronic absenteeism is a significant and overlooked factor contributing to declines in academic achievement.
These sober findings are a call to action for pediatricians and health providers. Health providers, both in schools and the community, have an important role in ensuring students do not miss school unnecessarily. When health providers are at the table they can work with schools and districts, using their medical expertise and knowledge of families to identify and develop solutions when health-related barriers are causing significant absences.
New Training: AAP Learning Burst
To encourage better understanding of how health providers can help, we worked with the American Academy of Pediatrics Council on School Health (COSH) to develop a Learning Burst training for school health staff and related health professionals. Find Addressing Chronic Absenteeism from School.
The Learning Burst describes the major causes of absenteeism, identifies evidence-based health-related interventions to improve attendance and reduce inequities, and discusses how schools and healthcare providers can collaborate to promote school attendance. This training resource references a new health handout Attendance Works created for families to help them address students with anxiety. Attendance Works created a second handout, developed with input from the National Association of School Nurses, Kaiser Permanente Thriving Schools and other school health providers, that clarifies some misunderstandings around reasons to keep kids home and offers guidance about seeking support when students have anxiety or are immunocompromised. The document covers some common symptoms that might require a child to stay home and/or seek medical care, and when it’s okay to return to school.
2023 American Academy of Pediatrics National Conference
We are delighted that chronic absenteeism will be a focus of a morning education program during the 2023 American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) National Conference & Exhibition in Washington D.C. on October 22, 2023. School health experts, including Dr. Elliott Attisha, an Attendance Works senior fellow, will explore the connection between daily school attendance and student health and well-being, and offer strategies and innovative approaches on how educators and health providers can work together to improve student success and long-term health.
During this program Attendance Works Executive Director Hedy Chang will receive the 2023 Martin C. Ushkow Award from the AAP COSH. This award recognizes a school health professional or organization that has contributed to the welfare of children in school or community. We are honored by this upcoming recognition of our work. Stay tuned for more about the October 22, COSH education program.
It’s true: left unaddressed, health issues impact a child’s ability to show up to school and further widen the achievement gap. Join us in doing your part to boost student attendance, achievement and good health.