The opening days of school conjure up images of backpacks stuffed with notebooks and unsharpened pencils, bulletin boards freshly decorated by teachers, and students showing off new clothes to old friends.
But even in these early days of the new school year, some students already are heading toward academic trouble: They’re missing too many days of school. Across the country, as many as 7.5 million students miss nearly a month of school every year—absences that can correlate with poor performance at every grade level.
This trend starts as early as kindergarten and continues through high school, contributing to achievement gaps and ultimately to dropout rates. In the Twin Cities, more than 24% of public school students were chronically absent in 2012.
School officials in the Twin Cities understand how important attendance is and every September is Attendance Awareness Month, part of a nationwide movement intended to convey the message that every school day counts.
EARLY GRADES ATTENDANCES MATTERS
Kindergarten and 1st grade classes often have abenteeism rates as high as those in high school. Many of these absences are excused, but they still add up to lost time in the classroom.
WHY IT MATTERS
If children don’t show up for school regularly, they miss out on fundamental reading and math skills and the chance to build a habit of good attendance that will carry them into college and careers.
Preliminary data from a California study found that children who were chronically absent in kindergarten and 1st grade were far less likely to read proficiently at the end of 3rd grade.
Chronic absence isn’t just about truancy or willfully skipping school. Instead, children stay home because of chronic illness, unreliable transportation, housing issues, bullying or simply because their parents don’t understand how quickly absences add up—and affect school performance.
After all, 18 days is only two days a month in a typical school year. This is true whether absences are excused or unexcused, whether they come consecutively or sporadically throughout the school year.
HOW THIS LOOKS ACROSS THE NATION
- In Philadelphia, only 13% of students who had 80% attendance or less in 6th grade, graduated high school on time (Balfanz, Herzong, MacIver, 2007).
- In Montgomery County, MD, students absent from school nine or more times in a semester in 1st grade are twice as likely to drop out of high school. (Rethinam and West, 2013)
- In Baltimore, students with low attendance in both pre-kindergarten and kindergarten often continue to have low attendance, are more likely to be retained by grade 3, and on average have lower academic outcomes than peers with better attendance (Baltimore Education Research Consortium, 2012).
So how do we turn this around?
Many parents and students don’t realize how quickly early absences can add up to academic trouble. Community members and teachers can educate families and build a culture of attendance through early outreach, incentives and attention to data.
The lack of a reliable car, or simply missing the school bus, can mean some students don’t make it to class. Schools, transit agencies and community partners can organize car pools, supply bus passes or ﬁnd other ways to get kids to school.
Address Health Needs
Health concerns, particularly asthma and dental problems, are among the leading reasons students miss school in the early grades. Schools and medical professionals can work together to give children and families health care and advice.
Track the Right Data
Schools too often overlook chronic absence because they track average attendance or unexcused absences, not how many kids miss too many days for any reason. Attendance Works has free data-tracking tools.
Schools can’t do this alone.
We’re going to call on the whole community to help. Think about what you can do within your own family and your own neighborhood to help get more kids to school. And join us in our effort to make every day count.
*Above illustrations and data from the “Attendance in the Early Grades” infographic.