Perfect Attendance Awards

Perfect attendance awards are a terrible idea. I get it–I get why they were developed. To encourage kids with chronic absenteeism to attend school, it was assumed that increased attendance would improve performance.

In fact, today, only 2% of educators and parents surveyed believe that perfect attendance awards are a bad idea. This is significant because the data shows they are a terrible idea. Let’s dig in.

This has been on my mind for a while. But recently, two blog readers had their kids excluded from Perfect Attendance Award events. One was excluded from a school pizza party (only one in the class!), and he has chronic health issues.

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Another child with an IEP, again with health issues, was excluded from a dance that was only open to students with perfect attendance.

Both boys felt unfairly excluded and were absent for reasons beyond their control. Instead of moving toward disability acceptance, they were shamed for not attending school daily.

Why Perfect Attendance Awards are a Terrible Idea

  1. The prizes given with attendance awards are extrinsic motivators, not intrinsic ones. Extrinsic motivators don’t have lasting value or lessons for a child.
  2. Perfect attendance policies and awards encourage kids to attend school when they are not feeling up to it, either physically or mentally. Going to school when a child needs a mental health day may exacerbate a condition. And going to school when you are genuinely sick is just not fair–many students are medically fragile and rely on their “herd” to be well for them.
  3. These awards are superficial. They reward students merely for ‘showing up’, and that’s not how life is. You have to put in the work.
  4. Attendance awards unfairly target disabled and chronically ill students. As if our kids didn’t have enough issues to deal with in society, now they are shamed into thinking they are not ‘good enough’ because their disability prevented them from achieving some stupid pizza party.
  5. They don’t work. Numerous studies have been done on this, and they do not improve student performance or attendance. (see graphic below)
  6. Perfect Attendance is an “all or nothing” award, which sends a terrible message. Do they give prizes to the kids who only missed one or two days? No, they don’t. This is a terrible message to send to kids–that performance at school is all or nothing. Life has lots of gray areas.
  7. Perfect attendance awards assume that the reasons for the absence(s) are frivolous and can be easily overcome. This can further deflate or demotivate a student, mainly when the explanations for the absences are out of their control.
  8. It doesn’t get into the “why” of chronic absenteeism or make any attempts to fix it. Many families have real barriers, including illness, transportation issues, poverty/homelessness, trauma and violence in the household, and mental illness that can make regular participation a challenge. Perfect attendance awards offer the solution of “suck it up, buttercup, and get to school” instead of helping struggling families.

Does Perfect Attendance Matter?

As you can see from just one study (and many exist), the idea of a perfect attendance award doesn’t work. And the reason I chose to highlight this data because it didn’t matter if the award was announced or unannounced; it did not improve attendance or performance.

The data is clear--perfect attendance awards are a bad idea.
Click the image to see the entire study.

Is Perfect Attendance Worth It?

I have linked to two studies in this article. Read them and collect other data. And, if your school is still giving these awards, I’d approach your school board member. Ask them to meet or chat on the phone about this issue. Get their input.

Change is hard. You will likely be met with resistance. Those who have been monitoring and giving these awards for years will probably think, “but then kids won’t come to school.” Again, show the data.

We’d love it if getting kids to school was as simple as offering a slice of pizza. It’s not. Until we tackle the larger community issues, it will remain the same.

Perfect Attendance Awards

Final Thoughts: Posts like this get read by parents and educators. Parents nod their heads while reading and usually agree. For the educators who might be reading, know this: Most parents I know are doing their best with what they have. Instead of dangling some lame prize in front of a kid to encourage attendance, dig deep.

Find out why the child is truant or chronically absent. Many parents are good about keeping the school in the loop. Most of us want our kids at school.

Mine is actually home with me as I write this—doctor’s orders. Lord knows I wish that van were coming today and tomorrow, but for his overall health and well-being, I know I have to do this.

My son literally had 5 separate specialist appointments at 3 different hospitals over Thanksgiving break. And another 3 over Christmas break. I don’t “get” holiday breaks because I try to minimize the number of absences.

Even then, it’s not enough; he still has to miss school for appointments.

It’s easier to host a dance or a pizza party. But life’s real problems are not often easily solved, and chronic absenteeism is one of them.

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