Afterschool Focus: The Role of Attendance in Afterschool

Why Attendance Matters

It is no secret that school attendance is key to student success. Students who attend school regularly are more likely to master academic content, get good grades, feel connected to their community, develop healthy habits, and ultimately graduate from high school. Just as attendance supports positive student outcomes, absenteeism has a negative impact on a student's chances for success. When students are chronically absent, or miss 10% or more of school days, they are at serious risk of falling behind in school.1

Although chronic absenteeism is most prevalent among high school students, it occurs and has harmful effects at all grade levels. Some studies have found that by sixth grade, chronic absenteeism is a leading indicator of whether a student will drop out of high school.2 The correlation between attendance and academic achievement continues through secondary school, where chronic absenteeism also becomes an indicator of a student being off track for college and career readiness.3

Students miss school for a variety of reasons. These included barriers like illness, caring for another family member, mental or emotional health issues, involvement with the child welfare or juvenile justice system, difficulties with housing or food, or no safe path or transportation to school; aversions like bullying, bad grades, or ineffective or exclusionary discipline practices; and disengagement factors like lack of engaging or culturally relevant instruction or poor school climate.4 Moreover, low-income students are four times more likely to be chronically absent.5

Afterschool Programs and Attendance

Several studies have found that students who participate in high-quality afterschool programs have improved school engagement and attendance.6 The 2015-16 state-level evaluation of Illinois 21st CCLC programs supports these findings for students who attended afterschool regularly, or 30 or more days over the year. According to teacher survey data on elementary students who were in need of improvement in school attendance, 57% of these students who regularly participated in Illinois 21st CCLC programs showed improved attendance. Similarly, 50% of middle and high school students showed improved attendance. Teachers of all grade levels reported that at least 50% of their students who attended a 21st CCLC program regularly during the year showed increased engagement and improved behavior.7  

What Your 21st CCLC Program Can Do

In addition to supporting student attendance through high-quality programming, we encourage you to find ways to explicitly address student attendance at both school and afterschool. Consider some of the following strategies:

  • Focus on recruitment and retention in your 21stCCLC. Because students’ improved school attendance and engagement is associated with regular participation in afterschool programs, work with school staff to recruit students. Then, keep them coming back with a welcoming environment and engaging programming. Lights on Afterschool, a nationwide event celebrating afterschool programs, takes place on October 26. If you haven’t already done so, consider planning an event so that you can showcase your program to students and other community members.
  • Make attendance in afterschool and the school day a program focus. To encourage regular attendance in afterschool, your program can create a contract or participation agreement with parents, communicating your expectations on attendance. Some programs also make school-day attendance a requirement for participation in 21st CCLC activities.
  • Leverage relationships with students’ families. If your 21st CCLC staff see parents more frequently than school-day staff or have developed unique relationships with families, use those relationships to stress the importance of building good attendance habits. Establishing relationships provides opportunities to discuss causes of student absences and explore ways to support students. These conversations can address attendance in both school and afterschool.
  • Use your 21st CCLC program to address causes of chronic school absenteeism. Afterschool programs are uniquely positioned to address some of the causes of chronic absenteeism. This includes providing homework help and tutoring for students who are struggling academically. Social and emotional or behavioral health programming can address bullying and mental health issues. Partnerships with community-based organizations can help 21st CCLCs connect families to support services for physical and mental health. Finally, mentoring programs offer students the chance to develop one-on-one relationships with a caring adult or older peer where they can receive personal attention and support.
  • Work with school-day staff. Work with school-day staff to recruit students who are at risk of chronic absenteeism to participate in afterschool. Don’t forget to tell school-day staff about the impact of a student’s regular participation in afterschool. Train your staff to record student attendance information and share findings with the schools and districts that you serve.8  

Making Attendance a Priority in Illinois

Both the Illinois General Assembly and the Illinois State Board of Education (ISBE) have made attendance an education priority. For example, the Illinois State Plan for the Every Student Succeeds Act includes chronic absenteeism as a student success indicator.9 In addition, the Illinois General Assembly created the Illinois Attendance Commission in 2015. The commission operates within ISBE and is charged with studying the issue of chronic absenteeism and making recommendations for strategies to prevent it.  

Three recently passed legislative measures also address attendance. One new law requires districts and schools receiving public funds to collect and review chronic absence data and determine what systems of support and resources are needed to engage chronically absent students. Another amends the school code to require that a district’s school report include average daily attendance by grade level. Finally, a joint resolution encourages the Illinois State Board of Education and each school district to consider the benefits of the attendance awareness campaign promoted by the Illinois Attendance Commission.10

Although these new legislative measures may not affect your 21st CCLC program’s day-to-day work, afterschool programs can support schools and districts in implementing them. Consider how your 21st CCLC program might be part of a multi-tiered system of support for chronically absent students. Also, consider contacting school leadership about participating in an attendance awareness campaign.  


Attendance Awareness, an event that is often associated with back-to-school activities, takes place in September; therefore, it is fitting that we are addressing this topic in October, after awareness activities have ended. As attendance becomes a priority for schools and we learn more about how afterschool programs can support student attendance and success, we encourage your 21st CCLC team to make attendance a year-round focus.  


Absences Add Up. (2017). Reasons why kids miss school. Retrieved from

Allensworth, E. M., Gwynne, J. A., Moore, P., & de la Torre, M. (2014). Looking forward to high school and college: Middle grade indicators of readiness in Chicago Public Schools. Chicago, IL: The University of Chicago Consortium on Chicago School Research. Retrieved from

Applied Survey Research. (2011). Attendance in early elementary grades: Associations with student characteristics, school readiness, and third grade outcomes. San Jose, CA: Author. Retrieved from

Attendance Works. (n. d.) Making the case: How good afterschool programs improve school-day attendance. Retrieved from

Attendance Works. (2016). Attendance matters: How expanded learning opportunities keep kids in school. [PowerPoint slides]. Retrieved from

Attendance Works. (2017). The secret formula 1+2+3: Improving attendance for our most vulnerable students. [PowerPoint slides]. Retrieved from

Baltimore Education Research Consortium. (2011). Destination graduation: Sixth grade early warning indicators for Baltimore City Schools. Their prevalence and impact. Baltimore, MD: Author. Retrieved from

Chang, H. N. & Jordan, P. W. (2013). Building a Culture of Attendance: Schools and Afterschool Programs Together Can and Should Make a Difference! In T. K. Peterson (Ed.),  Expanding minds and opportunities: Leveraging the power of afterschool and summer learning for student success.  Washington, DC: Collaborative Communications Group. Retrieved from

Chang, H. N., & Romero, M. (2008). Present, engaged, and accounted for: The critical importance of addressing chronic absence in the early grades. New York, NY: National Center for Children in Poverty. Retrieved from

Goodyear, L. Mansori, S., Cox, J., & Rodriguez, S. (2017). Illinois State Board of Education 21st Century Community Learning Centers Program: State-level program evaluation 2015-16. Waltham, MA: EDC. Retrieved from

Illinois General Assembly. HB3139. 100th Gen. Assembly. (2017). Retrieved from

Illinois General Assembly. HJR0011. 100th Gen. Assembly. (2017). Retrieved from

Illinois General Assembly. SB1532. 100th Gen. Assembly. (2017). Retrieved from

Illinois State Board of Education. (2017.) Illinois State Board of Education state template for the Consolidated State Plan under the Every Student Succeeds Act. Springfield, IL: 2017. Retrieved from



1 Chronic absenteeism includes excused absences and out-of-school suspensions. (Attendance Works, n.d.; 2017)
2  Baltimore Education Research Consortium, 2011.
3 Allensworth, Gwynne, Moore, & de la Torre, 2014.
4 Absences Add Up, 2017; Attendance Works, 2017.
5 Chang & Romero, 2008.
6 Chang & Jordan, 2013.
7 Goodyear, Mansori, Cox, & Rodriguez, 2017.
8 Chang & Jordan, 2013.
9 Illinois State Board of Education, 2017.
10 To learn more about these laws, explore House Bill 3139, Senate Bill 1532, and House Joint Resolution 0011.