Highline Public Schools
15675 Ambaum Blvd. SW Burien,WA 98166

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Attendance Toolkit

Good attendance helps children do well in school and eventually in the workplace. Good attendance matters for school success, starting as early as prekindergarten and throughout elementary school. By middle and high school, poor attendance is a leading indicator of dropout.

Research shows that missing 2-3 days a month can result in:

  • Third-grade students falling behind in reading 
  • Sixth-grade students failing courses
  • Teens dropping out of high school

As a community, we can work together to help our students be at school and learning. Use the resources and strategies below to engage your community and families and promote good attendance practices. 

Family Communication Tips

How to Talk About Attendance - For Teachers

Research shows that families trust teachers more than anybody else when it comes to hearing about their child’s absences, and are open to receiving more information directly from teachers on this topic. To maintain consistency in talking to families, we are emphasizing that every absence matters. 

Here are some considerations for teachers:

  • Refer to absences by month, rather than year. Families systematically underestimate absences on a yearly basis, but can more accurately reflect on absences if they are presented on a month-by-month basis. 
    Example: “Missing 2 days a month is too much” instead of “missing 10+ days a year is too much.” 

  • Highlight the downsides of absences, not the upsides of attendance. Conversations framed around attendance cause the families to think about what they are already doing, not what they are missing. ·
    Example: “Missing too many days can be harmful” instead of “Attending every day is beneficial.”

  • Emphasize that there is no perfect replacement for attendance. If a child is absent, a homework packet or take-home assignment might be helpful, but be sure to clarify that the assignment does not fully “make up” for the absence.
    Example: “Make sure the student completes these assignments, but he will still need to work extra hard to catch up once he returns to school.” or “You cannot make up for too many absences with homework or take-home assignments”

  • Connect elementary school absences to later academic performance. Surveyed parents were much more likely to say that high school attendance was more important than elementary school attendance. Help them connect the dots between the two.
    Example: “Students who are absent in elementary school miss out on key concepts that they will need for later grades, including high school.” 

  • If possible, connect absences to the missed opportunity to learn specific class curriculum/content.
    Example: “We are learning to identify numerators and denominators this week. Please make sure your child does not miss school because his/her understanding of this lesson will make him better prepared for next week’s lesson on adding fractions with common denominators” 

  • Avoid compliance-based messaging. Families are not motivated to improve their child’s attendance by threatening or court-centric messaging, particularly from teachers. 

  • Do not use accusatory language. All families are just  doing their best. Families respond well to feeling supported and like you’re on their side. 

Revised from State of California Truancy Toolkit  

Engage Families at Student-Teacher Conferences

Student-led conferences facilitated by teachers are an ideal time to talk about the importance of regular attendance (starting as early as kindergarten and even in pre-kindergarten) for achievement. Use this one-on-one time to update families on their student’s attendance and make sure they are aware of programs in place, or school activities that promote attendance. This approach helps you infuse attendance into your work without adding in a new activity. It helps make talking about attendance as normal as discussing academic performance and classroom behavior.

It’s important to help families learn about the positive impact of good attendance and the negative effects of chronic absenteeism on realizing their hopes and dreams for their children. Families may not realize that even excused absences, if they accumulate, can cause their children to fall behind and that building the habit of attendance in the early grades can influence their children’s chances of graduating from high school. Conferences offer a regular opportunity for teachers, students and families to take stock of how many absences have already taken place and whether too much time has been missed in classroom instruction.

Communication Resources

Create a Welcoming Environment

Why a Welcoming Environment is Important

We know a lot about what constitutes effective messaging about absenteeism, but the messages aren't always heard if we do not take the time to establish a positive relationship that shows we care about the student. Such a relationship doesn’t happen overnight. It involves building a trusting relationship, learning how to leverage the strengths and assets of a student and family and helping them overcome challenges to getting to school.

Research and experience shows that attendance improves when a school community offers a warm and welcoming environment that engages students and families and provides enriching learning opportunities. Students are more likely to come to school when they feel safe, know that someone at the school cares about them, and when there are exciting and relevant lessons. Families are more likely to to make sure their children are in class every day when they know school staff are looking out for their children’s best interest and when they understand the potentially adverse impact of absences, even just two days a month, on academic success.

Educators are essential to ensuring all of the students in a school feel welcomed and engaged and learn about the importance of daily attendance. Making a difference doesn’t necessarily require extra work. Rather, it involves strategically infusing attendance and the power of positive relationships into everyday interactions with students and families.
Adapted from Attendance Works

Strategy 1: Build Positive Relationships

Motivate Students to Attend by Forging Positive Relationships With Each Student and Family

Take attendance in a caring manner. Personalize taking attendance by greeting students by name and welcoming a student back after an absence. This practice both ensures accurate attendance data is collected and helps strengthen a student’s positive sense of connectedness to the school community.

Welcome each family and child at the beginning of the year. There are many good examples: a smile and a high five as students board the school bus, staff ready to greet families and students at drop-off points and offer directions, a friendly greeting to each family and student at the classroom door, a post card or note welcoming the student to your classroom or a phone call before school begins. 

Who makes up a student’s family?

  • When we use the term family, we mean the adults in a student’s life who have the responsibility for supporting and making educational decisions for him or her. For many students, this is straightforward: family means the child’s parents. For others it may mean a grandparent or other kin who are the student’s guardians. For students involved in the foster care system, there may be several adults who support the students in their education besides the student’s designated Education Decision Maker.

When possible, start your relationship with your families on their home turf by offering a home visit. When educators invest upfront in relational home visits, attendance improves and schools can reap many other positive benefits. Ideally, school staff will get trained and then conduct voluntary home visits to families during summer or early fall. This helps open lines of communication and establish a positive home-school relationship before problems arise.

With home visits, families are more likely to feel that educators really care about their children and often gain a deeper understanding of what their children are learning and expectations for their child’s academic achievement. Educators gain insights into the hopes and dreams that families have for their children as well as the challenges a student faces in getting to school every day. In short, relational home visits help bridge the gaps that often exist especially when educators don’t live in neighborhoods served by their schools or share the ethnic or class backgrounds of their students.

Strategy 2: Recognize Improvements

Recognize Good and Improved Attendance


One strategy for improving attendance is engaging students, parents, educators and community members in offering positive recognition or incentives for getting to school on time. Incentives are not meant to be bribes but rather are a positive way to help students internalize the value of showing up every day. As this guidance offered by the national Positive Behavioral and Intervention Supports (PBIS) center reveals, thoughtfully designed incentives are an effective and proven approach to promoting positive behaviors like showing up to class every day. Incentives also don’t need to be costly. Simple things—recognition from peers and the school through certificates or assemblies, extra recess time, homework passes or even dancing in the hallways—go a long way toward motivating students.

If you already have a system of recognizing appropriate social and academic behaviors, don’t create something new. Just make sure to build in attention to attendance.

Strategy 3: Emphasize Attendance All Year

Emphasize Attendance at Strategic Points Throughout the Year

Daily attendance is not steady over the course of a school year. Where does it tend to dip? When educators know which days of the week or months of the year tend to have poor attendance, they can plan ahead and take steps to reduce the number of absences. If you notice absences are high on particular weekdays, such as Mondays or Fridays, or if they peak before or after holidays, plan something to encourage attendance. Ideas include lessons that are particularly engaging, special incentives for those days or inviting families or a special guest to visit and give presentations.