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early_math_head-start-300pxThe recently released scores on the Smarter Balanced assessments underscore enduring achievement gaps that decades of previous reforms have failed to close. But one contributor to the achievement gap has received little attention: The fact that large numbers of the youngest and often most disadvantaged students are frequently absent from school.

In California, kindergarten students are the most likely of any elementary school students to be “chronically absent,” defined as those missing at least 18 days, or 10 percent of the school year, according to “In School & On Track 2015,” a new report from Attorney General Kamala Harris that looked at absenteeism rates in the 2014-15 school year.

The fact that kindergarten is optional in California, despite recent efforts to make it compulsory, may contribute to a sense among parents that it is less important: 14.2 percent of kindergartners are chronically absent, compared with 8.8 percent of first graders.

The study raises concerns about rates of absenteeism along racial and economic lines: Almost 30 percent of Native American and African American kindergartners were classified as chronically absent. More than 75 percent of students with chronic attendance problems were from low-income backgrounds.

“Today’s attendance gaps become tomorrow’s achievement gaps,” said Harris. Her report cites an Attendance Works study that found four out of five students who were absent more than 10 percent of the school year in kindergarten and first grade were unable to read at grade level by third grade.

Harris’ office partnered with the nonprofit group The Ad Council, to find out more about the reasons for this absenteeism. They interviewed parents of chronically absent students and uncovered a perception that elementary school attendance in general isn’t as important as in upper grades. In addition to reasons like mild illness, parents let students skip school because a sibling was absent from school, and as a reward for good behavior.

The report calls absenteeism “a solvable problem,” however, and includes suggested strategies for districts, with links to case studies. A toolkit with research and tips about improving student attendance will be released by the Attorney General’s office this fall.


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  1. Brenda 12 months ago12 months ago

    In cases of elementary students and absenteeism it is the parents who are not getting their child to school. As this continues time and time again it becomes easier to just let the child stay home than fight with them. Ridiculous! As a teacher what bothers me is we get evaluated on student performance and absenteeism needs to be part of the equation. Students who are not in school do poorly on tests which … Read More

    In cases of elementary students and absenteeism it is the parents who are not getting their child to school. As this continues time and time again it becomes easier to just let the child stay home than fight with them. Ridiculous!
    As a teacher what bothers me is we get evaluated on student performance and absenteeism needs to be part of the equation. Students who are not in school do poorly on tests which makes me look bad as a teacher. Something needs to be done about parents who let their children stay home from school. It becomes a vicious cycle. Teaching for twenty years I’ve seen it happen.

    Replies

    • Erin Brownfield 11 months ago11 months ago

      Thanks Brenda– the connection to teacher evaluation is an interesting point.

    • CarolineSF 11 months ago11 months ago

      We pulled our kids out of school at times when they were in kindergarten for family travel — and older grades too, though less and less casually through the years. I bet Kamala Harris would too, and so would everyone on the EdSource staff. I know it’s different when the child desperately needs the academic foundation, and that gets into some really uncomfortable territory. But just pointing it out.

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