The Problems of Student Truancy

By: Dr. Jamila Williams

Truancy, described as missing school without permission, is a growing problem in today’s schools. Truancy is a problem for the entire society. Problematic truancy can lead to lowered student achievement, delinquency, drug involvement, and even early pregnancy. A student’s truancy can signal low attachment to school and produce negative relationships with peers who also have issues attending school. In some instances, these tendencies seem to be associated with those also experiencing drug abuse. The effect of student truancy not only affects the student, but also continues to impact schools and communities. Truancy has the potential to cause a decline in the economy of our nation and therefore be viewed as the serious problem it is. In order to prevent or reduce high school dropout rates, elementary and middle schools must look at strategies to reduce absenteeism, therefore improving student attendance which ultimately may create an increase in student motivation.

According to the National Center for Health Statistics, over one-quarter (15 million) of school-aged children (aged 5–17 years) in the United States did not have perfect attendance during the previous surveyed year due to illness or injury. During the survey year, five percent of children missed 11 or more days of school due to illness or injury. Children from families with low incomes were more than twice as likely to have absences of 11 days or more (9%) compared to children from families with the highest income (4%). Children from single-parent families were more than twice as likely to have been absent from school for 11 or more days during the past survey year due to illness or injury as compared to children from two-parent families.

Causes of Truancy

Statistically, nationwide during a four-week period in the spring of 2000, more than half of eighth, tenth, and twelfth grade students missed one or more days of school. Frequent truancy caused the students to miss educational information and skills that were needed to be successful throughout the school year. Students who were truant often exhibited lower achievement, which fostered academic frustration causing further truancy. Other causes of student truancy included illness, family problems, working parents, lack of motivation and large school size. Students with high absenteeism tended to have low self-image and poor relationships with their peers. School size was identified as another factor that could cause students to be absent from school. Large school size might cause students to feel unsupported. When children do not feel a sense of belonging in school, they often seek support elsewhere, which can result in truancy. Evidence suggested that smaller schools might positively influence higher student attendance. Other factors that might cause students truancy included poverty, ethnic status, and family issues.

The physical condition of the school was one factor researched as a potential hindrance to attendance. A study was conducted to determine if the infrastructure of a school influenced student absenteeism. Infrastructure was defined in the study as the physical condition of the building, permanent versus non-permanent components of the building, quality of custodial care within the building, and how crowded the classrooms were in each case. The study concluded that absenteeism and dropout rates could be impacted by the infrastructure of the school. Findings revealed that schools in need of structural repair, used temporary buildings such as portable modular units, or had inadequate custodial care produced an environment that discouraged student attendance. The findings supported that high absenteeism was especially likely in schools with a large percentage of low performing students.

The search for parental factors that might inhibit student attendance led to researched reasons for poor student attendance in a primary school in Nigeria. The study identified several factors that inhibited parents from sending their children to school. The most prevalent factors were poverty and the high cost of schooling. Additional reasons identified in the study were the value of money, misconceptions about the importance of educating females, and the rise in unemployment. The study concluded that poor parents did not send their children to school and females were more likely to be absent from school. Parents did not send their children to school because the parents did not want to pay the cost of schooling. Furthermore, children were discouraged from going to school because of the parents’ beliefs that jobs would not be available even if the children went to school.

Student mobility was identified as another link to truancy. Students with high mobility rates tended to have an increase in absenteeism and a decrease in achievement performance. A recent study researched the academic performance of students with high mobility rates and students who were non-mobile. A negative relationship was found between student mobility rates and academic performance. A potential cause of disparity in performance could be associated with lost learning opportunities between changes in the schools which they attended as well as inconsistencies in school curricula.