What Attendance Is
When people talk about issues with school attendance, they are usually referring to one of two kinds of absenteeism: chronic absenteeism and occasional absenteeism. Students who are chronically absent miss 10 percent of the school year (or 18 out of the typical 180 school days per year). Establishing a pattern of regular attendance in kindergarten is especially important because 1) children who are frequently absent from kindergarten miss critical early learning time and 2) missed days in the earliest years are a precursor to long-term school disengagement.
Why Attendance Matters
Research shows that early absence predicts long-term negative consequences, such as reduced levels of school achievement, increased truancy, and increased risk of dropping out of school. Children who are chronically absent in kindergarten miss basic skills and are particularly at risk for these negative outcomes. Early absenteeism is even more problematic for children from low-income families who lack the resources to compensate for missed learning time. Children in poverty are four times more likely to be chronically absent, and children who transition to kindergarten from home (rather than from pre-school or day care settings) also struggle with attendance because they lack prior experience with transitioning to a setting outside of home.
Why Attendance Problems Exist
There are a number of causes for low attendance in kindergarten. Some families are not aware of the importance of attendance in early education: some see kindergarten attendance as optional. Sometimes, a child misses school because he or his parent has negative feelings about school. For example, frequent school refusal behaviors and school day illness can be related to a child’s anxiety about going to school. Other issues influencing attendance can include a lack of routine, transportation issues, parent work hours, or unstable housing.
What Transition Programs Can Do
Certainly, some of these issues are complex and beyond the scope of schools and transition teams. However, the transition to kindergarten is a perfect time to help families prevent and resolve barriers to regular attendance. A kindergarten transition program that focuses on parent and child engagement can help to alleviate some of these issues before they lead to absenteeism. Because children are more likely to attend and succeed in school if their parents are engaged in their education, the transition to kindergarten is an ideal time to increase parent engagement. By providing a good first experience and open dialogue around the importance of kindergarten, parents have the opportunity to stay engaged in their children’s learning.
Additional examples of some simple solutions include transition activities that reduce anxiety and build positive relationships between home and school, raising awareness of the importance of attendance in kindergarten and all other grades, supportive problem solving, and creating a welcoming environment in the school.
What Schools Can Do
Evidence suggests that the most effective methods for increasing daily attendance and reducing chronic absence are:
- Rewarding students for improved attendance
- Communicating with all families (includes strategies for diverse and hardest to reach families)
- Establishing a family contact person at the school who can discuss attendance issues
- Conducting workshops for parents on attendance policies and strategies
- Providing access to after-school programs
Additionally, home visits should be considered for families of children who are chronically absent. Use of a truant officer reduces occasional absences, but is not effective for chronic absenteeism.
An Important First Step for Schools
Accurate data collection is critical to assessing attendance. Schools should collect daily attendance for every child in order to assess needs for individual children who may be chronically absent. Many schools don’t collect attendance or only record daily averages for attendance, therefore missing an opportunity to identify children who are struggling with attendance. Make sure to check out the Toolkit for City Leaders PDF!
- Chronic Early Absence: Providing Solutions for Increasing Achievement in the Early Grades and Preventing School Drop-out
- Attendance Works: Why It Matters
- Attendance Works: Tools for City Leaders
- Present, Engaged, and Accounted For: The Critical Importance of Addressing Chronic Absence in the Early Grades
- A New Wave of Evidence: The Impact of School, Family, and Community Connections on Student Achievement
- Present and Accounted for: Improving Student Attendance Through Family and Community Involvement
- Help Your Child Succeed in School: Build the Habit of Good Attendance Early