ERIC Identifier: ED429334
Publication Date: 1999-04-00
Author: DeKalb, Jay
Source: ERIC Clearinghouse on
Educational Management Eugene OR.
Student Truancy. ERIC Digest, Number 125.
Truancy has been labeled one of the top ten major problems in this country's
schools, negatively affecting the future of our youth. In fact, absentee rates
have reached as high as 30 percent in some cities. The statistics speak for
*In New York City, about 150,000 out of 1,000,000 students are absent daily.
School officials are unsure what portion of the absences are legitimately
*The Los Angeles Unified School District reports that 10 percent of its
students are absent each day. A mere half of these students return with written
*Detroit's forty public school attendance officers investigated 66,440 truant
complaints during the 1994-95 school year (Ingersoll and LeBoeuf 1997).
This Digest examines some of the ways truancy affects both individuals and
society, and identifies factors that may place students at greater risk of
becoming truant. Guidelines for creating effective attendance policies are
considered, and various responses to the problem are described, with the goal of
making it easier for districts to implement policies that work for them.
WHAT ARE SOME OF THE CONSEQUENCES OF NONATTENDANCE?
nonattendance is a problem that extends much further than the school. It affects
the student, the family, and the community.
The Los Angeles County Office of Education identifies truancy as the most
powerful predictor of delinquency. Police departments across the nation report
that many students not in school during regular hours are committing crimes,
including vandalism, shoplifting, and graffiti. When Van Nuys, California,
officials conducted a three-week sweep for truants on the streets, shoplifting
arrests dropped by 60 percent (Garry 1996).
Absenteeism is detrimental to students' achievement, promotion, graduation,
self-esteem, and employment potential. Clearly, students who miss school fall
behind their peers in the classroom. This, in turn, leads to low self-esteem and
increases the likelihood that at-risk students will drop out of school.
In a longitudinal study of African-American males, Robins and Ratcliff (1978)
found that of those students who were often truant in elementary school and
truant in high school, 75 percent failed to graduate. Failure to graduate, in
turn, is associated with diminished earning potential in adulthood and other
WHAT ARE SOME CAUSES OF TRUANCY?
Before determining the
most effective means of controlling unexcused absences, the causes of truant
behavior must be understood. Not only may the cause vary from individual to
individual, but school staff and students may disagree about the underlying
causes. Although many teachers may be empathetic and willing to help students,
this difference in opinion may create a barrier of understanding between teacher
In one survey, students cited boredom and loss of interest in school,
irrelevant courses, suspensions, and bad relationships with teachers as the
major factors in their decision to skip school. On the other hand, most of the
school staff believed truancy to be related primarily to student problems with
family and peers (ERIC/CEM and Linn-Benton Education Service District 1992).
ARE THERE GUIDELINES FOR CREATING EFFECTIVE ATTENDANCE
The National Association of Secondary School Principals makes
several recommendations concerning attendance policies that work:
*The policies should be strong. Schools that invest thought and effort into
solving the problem make the most headway.
*Participation in the formulation of the attendance policies should be
*Attendance expectations, as well as consequences of good and poor
attendance, should be specified in writing.
*Policies should be well publicized.
*Policies should be consistently enforced at every level--by teacher,
counselor, and principal.
*Absences should be followed up by a telephone call or a letter (cited in
Bartlett and others 1978).
Solutions can be divided into four categories: strict laws and regulations,
in-school programs, computer technology, and community solutions (Gullatt and
Lemoine 1997). Each solution addresses a different set of risk factors;
therefore, specific categories or combinations of solutions should be considered
when creating an attendance policy.
WHAT TOUGH APPROACHES CAN BE TAKEN TO ADDRESS THE PROBLEM OF NONATTENDANCE?
Many school districts adopt a hard-line approach to
reducing unexcused absenteeism. This angle of attack is normally enacted as a
means of breaking the truant-to-criminal evolution. It discourages kids from
skipping school by imposing penalties on parents and on the students themselves.
In Tulsa County, Oklahoma, sixteen school districts are using a variety of
methods to reduce truancy, but none has been as successful as taking truants
(and their parents) to court. "Family outreach" police officers are used to
investigate unexcused absences. Three years after the policy was implemented,
600 cases had been prosecuted, resulting in 300 convictions in which a parent
was fined and mandated to attend counseling. Hundreds of kids are back in
school, and the county has seen a 45 percent reduction in the district's dropout
rate. The districts were able to implement this policy at virtually no cost to
the schools due to the districts' increase in funding that resulted from higher
average daily attendance statistics (Wilson 1993).
Many states allow or require school systems to grade student achievement on
factors other than quality and quantity of work. These schools may have the
authority to refuse a student credit on homework assigned the day of absence,
providing the absence is unexcused. Course credit may be denied if the student
misses class a specified number of times, ranging from 5 to 20 times per term,
depending on the school.
In the 1982-83 school year, the Austin (Texas) Independent School District
adopted a policy that allowed only 10 absences (excused or unexcused) per
semester before loss of course credit. That year attendance shot up to 93.5
percent (Gullatt and Lemoine).
CAN TRUANCY BE CONTROLLED FROM WITHIN THE SCHOOL?
definitely. Peers have an undeniable influence on students' decision to become
truant. One study reported that 84 percent of the interviewed truants said their
friends skipped school. Antitruancy programs that expose truants to other peer
groups and other methods of interaction may be effective in reducing truancy.
Afterschool sports or other programs at the school site give students a
chance to make new friends, experience a positive atmosphere, and feel a sense
of accomplishment, which, in turn, may reduce their likelihood of skipping
The learning environment is also important to student performance. Teachers
must arrive on time, give students frequent praise, interact with the entire
class (preferably asking open-ended questions), minimize verbal reprimands and
other forms of punishment, and deemphasize competition in the classroom (Rohrman
A Kentucky high school "requires" that teachers compliment marginal students
as well as offering them opportunities to succeed daily (Rohrman).
The Osiris School Administration Program, a software package that allows
administrators to maintain accurate, up-to-date, detailed information on each
student, is being adopted nationally. The program contacts parents of absent
students on a daily basis. After the fifth and ninth absence, warning phone
calls and computer-generated messages are sent, totaling thirteen contacts to
the families. The number of contacts made by the program may be altered to
adhere to state or local attendance policies (Gullatt and Lemoine).
HOW CAN THE COMMUNITY BECOME INVOLVED?
exploration and related career education before and during high school are
important for developing educational goals and setting timelines for achieving
those goals. Creating an awareness of career possibilities and related interests
eases the school-to-work transition.
The Peninsula Academies Program at Menlo-Atherton High School and Sequoia
High School in California pairs students with volunteer mentors from companies
that are aligned with students' career interests. The mentors acquaint students
with the world of work and help parents formulate career plans with their
children. Students begin the program in the tenth grade and receive three years
of computer or electronics instruction. The curriculum is highly work-related
and, as an incentive to graduate, students are guaranteed a job after they
complete the program (Naylor 1987).
Another approach to community involvement is the At-School, On Time, Ready to
Work program that has been implemented in Kansas. Students under sixteen years
old who are not attending school are reported to the county attorney. He invites
them to sign a ninety-day program contract that provides the following: a
supervision worker to verify the student's school attendance and to meet with
the student several times a week; a support group and therapy services that
teach self-esteem and confidence-building skills; and support and education
services for the student's parents, focusing on effective parenting techniques
and the importance of their child's education (Garry).
The problem of student nonattendance will never disappear entirely. Some
students willingly attend school, but others do not, often because of negative
factors or influences in their lives. These students require intervention, for
the benefits of regular attendance may be the difference between a lifetime of
burdens and a lifetime of accomplishments. By addressing related risk factors
with an attendance policy that works, teachers and administrators can give
students a much better chance of succeeding.
Bartlett, Larry, and others. "Absences. A Model
Policy and Rule." Iowa State Department of Public Instruction, Des Moines,
September 1978. ED 162 433.
ERIC Clearinghouse on Educational Management and Linn-Benton Education
Service District. At-Risk Youth in Crisis: A Handbook for Collaboration Between
Schools and Social Services. Volume 5: Attendance Services. Eugene, OR: Author,
July 1992. 60 pages. ED 347 621.
Garry, Eileen. Truancy: First Step to a Lifetime of Problems. Washington, DC:
Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention, October 1996. ED 408 666.
Gullatt, David E., and Dwayne A. Lemoine. "Truancy: What's a Principal to
Do?" American Secondary Education 1 (September 1997): 7-12. EJ 527 489.
Ingersoll, Sarah, and Donni LeBoeuf. "Reaching Out to Youth Out of the
Educational Mainstream." Washington, DC: Office of Juvenile Justice and
Delinquency Prevention, February 1997.
Naylor, Michele. Reducing the Dropout Rate through Career and Vocational
Education. Overview. ERIC Digest Series. Columbus, Ohio: Clearinghouse on Adult,
Career, and Vocational Education, 1987. ED 282 094.
Robins, Lee, and Kathryn Ratcliff. Long Range Outcomes Associated with School
Truancy. Washington, DC: Public Health Service, 1978. 35 pages. ED 152 893.
Rohrman, Doug. "Combating Truancy in Our Schools: A Community Effort." NASSP
Bulletin 76 (January 1993): 40-45. EJ 457 251.
Wilson, Kara Gae. "Tough on Truants." American School Board Journal 180
(April 1993): 43, 46. EJ 461 151.