Beyond the Report Card: Part 1

College & Career Readiness, High School Success | 09/25/2018

Katie Gustainis
Marketing & Communications Manager, Stand for Children Washington

This is part 1 of 2 of our blog series celebrating Attendance Awareness Month. Check out Part 2 here.

Seeing a student’s report card can mean a chest bursting with pride or a brow furrowed with worry. Good grades suggest all is well and full speed ahead, but grades that start to dip are a sign of trouble. Families start to ask questions of the student, while also asking themselves: “why didn’t I see this coming?”

For many families, the report card is the only metric for success that matters. It’s good grades or bust. But many students struggling for those grades often don’t have time to look up and ask for help before it’s the end of a semester and a poor report card comes home. This can especially be true during major transitions like starting middle school or high school. Families are caught by surprise at poor performance and left wondering how they could’ve helped earlier.

Fortunately, there is one way that students send up signal flares for help before it’s too late for extra credit: their attendance.


A landmark study done by the University of Chicago found that 9th-grade attendance is actually a better predictor of success than 8th-grade test scores. According to the research: “Information on absences is available early in the school year and might be the most practical indicator for identifying students for early interventions.”

For anyone supporting a student and asking how they can help before a student has fallen too far behind, attendance, it turns out, is a great place to start.

As a community, the education world has only just recently caught on to the importance and influence of attendance on student success. In their 2018 Data Matters report on school attendance, the nonprofit Attendance Works recognized 2008 as the first year that their research identified “that chronic absence…was a major challenge nationwide affecting student achievement.” Half a decade later, Attendance Awareness Month was celebrated for the first time in September 2013.

Shifting more awareness to attendance isn’t generally controversial, but it is critically important. Chronic absenteeism – defined by Attendance Works as “missing too much school for any reason, including excused or unexcused absences and suspensions” – is not an isolated problem. In fact, 61% of schools in Washington have high or extreme rates of chronic absenteeism, which is the 2nd worst rate in the nation, according to their Data Matters report released this month. This is a significant problem because a growing body of research shows that chronic absenteeism significantly affects the likelihood that a student will graduate high school.

The attendance data in the Attendance Works report, collected by the U.S. Department of Education, identifies students as chronically absent when they miss 15 or more days of school throughout the year. Washington’s Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction (OSPI) defines chronic absenteeism a little less stringently as missing 10% (or 18 days) of school per year, but the story in the data is still the same: far too many students in Washington are missing school far too often.

However, now that more and more communities are shifting their focus to become more aware of attendance and its importance, there’s hope. Instead of just waiting for a report card to come home, families can prioritize getting their student to school every day as a proactive way to support their success. Then, if there are issues with attendance, families can address the root cause of the problem head-on and provide the support a student needs when they need it, instead of when it’s too late.

For educators who want to focus more on attendance at school, check out Part 2 of this series to learn how a little bit of data can be used to make a big difference.


Chang, Hedy N., Bauer, Lauren and Vaughan Byrnes, Data Matters: Using Chronic Absence to Accelerate Action for Student Success, Attendance Works and Everyone Graduates Center, September 2018.

Allensworth, Elaine M., Easton, John Q., What Matters for Staying On-Track and Graduating in Chicago Public High Schools: A Close Look at Course Grades, Failures, and Attendance in the Freshman Year, Consortium on Chicago School Research at the University of Chicago, July 2007.

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