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Utah Schools Fight Chronic Absenteeism

Students who were chronically absent in early elementary were nearly twice as likely to NOT read on grade level

Ron Tolman, Superintendent at Box Elder County is one of four Utah Superintendents to sign a “Call to Action” Pledge. Tolman believes being present in class is a top priority.

“There’s a direct correlation between student attendance and their performance and success in school. Those who are chronically absent, are those that we struggle helping succeed. Those that are here on a regular basis seem to do much better.”

The Call to Action is a nationwide pledge that commits schools to improving attendance. The program is sponsored by seven national organizations and gives schools access to tools and learning opportunities to improve attendance. Over 200 Superintendents from school boards across the United States, including four from Utah have signed the pledge.

According to the Utah Education Policy Center, students who were chronically absent in high school were more than 7 times more likely to drop out of high school than students who were not chronically absent. Teri Cutler is the principal of Mountain Crest High School in Hyrum, Utah.

“I want the message to get out to students that absolutely we are monitoring your attendance. If you come up missing from a class, we want to know why you’ve missed that class. But we want you to know that it’s a priority for us, it’s important to us that you be in school.”  

Peni Knowles, a parent of a student at Mountain Crest, and her son Jet Knowles meeting with teachers during a fall conference where grades and attendance were discussed.

“I think it’s everything if you’re not there you don’t learn.”

“I definitely agree.”

Tami Madsen, another parent of a Mountain Crest Student said her own daughter’s experience with absence brought her attention to the issue.

“It’s really hard to make up work when you weren’t there to get instruction and learn about the concept. She knows that first hand from experience last year because she had some illnesses that kept her out of school for a month at a time. She had kind of a rough year but, she made up most of the work and pulled some decent grades, so she’s pretty motivated.”

Utah State Legislators passed a bill in 2013 that defined being chronically absent as missing 10% of the school year. The bill also required the State Board of Education to report the number and percentage of students who were chronically absent during the year in their school performance report. Before, school boards were required to report attendance, but not specifically chronic absenteeism, so schools had no way of knowing what percentage of their students were falling victim to being chronically absent.