School attendance is tied to academic achievement

Teach children and other adults the importance of regular school attendance as chronic absenteeism will impact academic success and success in life.

Chronic absenteeism is now affecting kindergarten and early elementary schools.
Chronic absenteeism is now affecting kindergarten and early elementary schools.

Students who miss 10 percent or more of the previous school year or miss an entire month or more of school days are considered chronically absent. Excessive absence from school is not just a middle and high school issue. Chronic absenteeism is now affecting kindergarten and early elementary schools.

According to the Learning First Alliance, one in 10 kindergarten and first grade children, nationally, are missing the equivalent of one full month of each school year. Schools typically report average daily attendance – the percent of students present on a given day – rather than chronic absenteeism. This kind of attendance data can mask the fact that the absent students are often the ones missing multiple days each year. In some schools, as many as 25 percent of kindergarten students are chronically absent. What does this mean for the children who are affected?

In a 2012 report on absenteeism in our nation’s schools by Johns Hopkins University, a nationally representative data set showed that:

  • Chronic absence in kindergarten is associated with lower academic performance in first grade with the impact being two times greater for students from low-income families.
  • Compared to kindergarten students with average absences, chronically absent kindergarteners gained 14 percent fewer literacy skills.
  • First grade chronically absent students gained 15 percent fewer literacy skills and 12 percent fewer math skills.

Absenteeism happens for many different reasons; children are sick, there is a family issue or their housing situation is unstable. In some cases, families are not aware of how important it is for children to be in school. Attendance in pre-school and kindergarten are sometimes viewed as optional. Parents may have a negative feeling about school because of their own negative experiences with the education system. Other issues that may influence attendance may include a lack of routine in the family, transportation issues, parent work hours and housing instability.

How can you address and impact this issue to improve school attendance and impact academic success for young children? Michigan State University Extension emphasizes the importance of regular school attendance by setting a good example for your children in your daily work habits. Follow through with commitments. Talk about the importance of a good education for life success. Work within your community to emphasize the value of education and regular school attendance; right from the start. Educate other parents about the cost to all of us of chronic school absenteeism. Pay attention to attendance data in your school district and work to create safe and supportive school environments in your community. Provide easy access to after-school programs.

Children who are chronically absent in kindergarten do not acquire basic skills and are at risk for negative outcomes. Early absenteeism is especially problematic for low-income children who lack resources to make up for missed learning time. According to “The Critical Importance of Addressing Chronic Absence in the Early Grades” by the National Center for Children in Poverty, children in poverty are four times more likely to be chronically absent, and children who transition to kindergarten from home without having first attended pre-school or day-care may struggle with attendance because they lack prior experiences with the transition from home to school.

For more information on caregiving or family issues that affect you, visit the MSU Extension and eXtension websites.

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