Learning First Alliance

Strengthening public schools for every child

Chronic Absence and Kindergarten

obriena's picture

Chronic absenteeism is often thought of as a middle and high school issue. As children become responsible for getting themselves to school, those who are disengaged stop showing up.

But did you know that nationally, one in ten kindergarten and first grade students miss the equivalent of a month of school each year? In some districts, it is more than one in four. Why don’t we talk more about these shocking statistics?

Perhaps because we don’t know them. I had no idea that chronic absenteeism (when a child misses 10% or more of the school year) in the early grades was so common until a session last week at the Coalition for Community Schools’ 2012 National Forum, when Hedy Chang, director of Attendance Works, and representatives from school districts across the nation helped illuminate the scope of the problem.

I doubt I am alone in my ignorance on this issue. When data in Multnomah County (Oregon) showed that 20% of K-3 students are chronically absent – 28% of kindergarteners – stakeholders in both the schools and the community were shocked.

How could schools miss the fact that more than a quarter of their kindergarteners are chronically absent? It isn’t data they typically collect. Schools often track truancy…but that isn’t the same as chronic absenteeism. While the definition of truancy varies by state, it typically involves unexcused absences – children missing school when no adult has given permission. In the younger grades, a child who is absent often has an adult’s permission.

Schools also often track average daily attendance (ADA – the percent of students present on a given day). But even an ADA as high as 95% can mask chronic absenteeism, when it is the same few students missing school over and over.

Missing so much school so young can have dire consequences for children. Not surprisingly, chronic absence in kindergarten and first grade leads to lower performance in third grade, which is tied to decreased attendance in sixth and ninth grade and an increased risk of dropping out. Basically, there is a group of children that we lose in grades K and one because they don't come to school.

So how do you reduce chronic absenteeism in the early grades? Create a safe, supportive school environment with engaging classrooms. Educate parents about the importance of attendance. Pay ongoing attention to attendance data. Offer school-based health care so that children do not have to miss excessive school for routine medical care. Celebrate attendance. There are a number of steps any school or district can take to address the issue.

In getting started, one of the most important questions to answer is, why are students missing school? It can be hard to get parents to commit to attendance, particularly among migrant and other mobile populations. Other issues can impact attendance as well. If an early childhood center is located next door to an elementary school and lets out an hour earlier, parents might sign out their elementary child out then so that they do not have to go back again that day. If streets flood when it rains, children might not have a safe way to walk to school.

Once you know the common causes of absenteeism in your community, you can address them. But you have to look for them - and for data on the issue in general. If you don't, problems in this area might never come to light.

I'm not surprised, but I'm

I'm not surprised, but I'm wondering if there's actually a simple, good reason for the absentee rate among Kindergarteners. As a first year teacher, I was sick *all* the time (and again when I moved states and started at a new school) as I was exposed to the germs of so many other people. I wonder what the data would show about illness rates for kids in K--surely they'd have the same challenges as I did.

If illness is the culprit, then perhaps curriculum in K needs to adapt instead of setting up a situation where those with poor immune systems fall behind. I know I missed more school in K than at any other time in my life--a full week for chicken pox alone.

I agree with Ellen, my son

I agree with Ellen, my son who just started kindergarten this past fall, has been constantly sick. The last day before Christmas vacation he brought home strep throat that came with scarlet fever. He was sick the entire Christmas vacation and after completing the first course of antibiotics the strep came back, even worse, I kept him out of school for the entire 10 days it took him to finish the second course of antibiotics. With the severity of his illness I was not taking any chances with my son's life just to satisfy the PA truancy laws. In the beginning of his absence I notified his school and teacher to request his work he would be missing. Since my son is quite advanced his teacher told me to just read him stories and work on his site words while absent. Well yesterday I received a letter from Children and Youth stating I have referred to there IU #20 truancy program. I have a hearing scheduled for Feb. 7th. This is absolutely outrageous, maybe the parents that sent their children to school with strep throat should have to take parenting classes, because of sick children being sent to school my child and I are being punished because he was seriously ill. It is unfortunate that I might have to take my child out of public school to homeschool him. I was planning on home schooling my children when they reached 3rd grade but I really wanted them to have the experience and socialization skills they acquire in public school. Now my child, do to know fault of his own might have to miss out on all the wonderful experiences of elementary school.

Absenteeism among

Absenteeism among kindergartens is instigated mostly by parents.

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Yes, by parents who make the

Yes, by parents who make the right choice and don't send them to school sick. I actually think all of the criticism about absence is coming from people who know that schools get paid according to the number of students who attend.

My son is prone to picking up

My son is prone to picking up viruses and suffers from allergies. He most definetely will be away more than a month during his kindi year. My doctor tells me it is normal for Kindegarten children to pick up a lot of viruses in their first year of school as they are exposed to new germs. The statistics of children even surviving the first years of life are lower than most people would imagine, so to pick up viruses when young is just normal. I think anyone who thinks that 10% absenteeism is abnormal is just punishing children and pushing parent to send children to school when they are sick. If the government or other adults would like to see kids at school more, address environmental issues such as the quality of food in supermarkets and the pollution in the air, and also work pressures. It's not the fault of parents, most parents I know are battling with unreachable demands.
Let's be real and give families a fair go!

As a teacher of Title 1 kids,

As a teacher of Title 1 kids, I often have K and 1st graders comment, "My mom said I get to have a day off", and I think it is often the attitude of parents, who were educated in a different era, that "It's just kindergarten. They'll miss a few coloring pages."
The impact is huge! We teachers do not have time to catch up the frequently absent kids and keep the rest of our class engaged. Picture the child who misses several days in which the sound of the letter A is introduced and practiced. How many words will they have trouble reading from that day on? This carries on to 1st grade. The child feels discouraged, behind, not getting it. Then they don't want to go to school. Parents think something must be bad at school so let them stay home. Not to be overly dramatic, but that child might be doomed to needing special help the rest of their school years, not because of a learning disability, but because they missed such key pieces of information in their formative years! I see it time and time again.

My kindergartner can easily

My kindergartner can easily do first grade level work, but unfortunately has been sick excessively. Maybe if other parents would stop using the public school system as a daycare and stop sending their sick children to school my child would miss so many days due to actual illnesses. My family puts great value on the importance of education and now we are the one's being punished for other parents negligence. If your child was suffering from strep throat and scarlet fever would you send them to school? My poor little boy couldn't even get out of bed for five days, had a fever of 103.9, a strep rash covering his entire body, and wouldn't even keep down the antibiotics due to vomiting for the first 2 days. His Christmas was spent in bed because 3 other children in his class had the virus and were still sent to school. Now I have because of his illness I have a truancy hearing and have been referred to Children and Youth. I will be exploring my options with an attorney regarding the schools own negligence in not notifying parents when there is an outbreak of an infectious illness in the school. My son is a very bright and happy child, it is unfortunate for him that he will now have to miss out on the wonderful experiences that elementary school offers because I am pretty much being forced to home school him due to chronic illness that he picks up from the school that is punishing him for being sick. How ironic?

PS. Don't send your kids to

PS. Don't send your kids to school sick, but DO get their missing work, communicate with the teacher, and do it at home with them. You'll be astounded at the amount of work a child does daily, much of which is direct instruction by the teacher. Parents can certainly do some of this at home.

I a kindergarten son who

I a kindergarten son who literally has been sick 10 times in the last 7 months. Terrible colds and flues. He has gotten the whole family very sick including my 3 year old. My husband is very angry and threats to take him out of school. He is in special education. He has autism and I think he needs every bit of school he can get but how when is is sick once or twice a month. Our county has 10 absent day rule. How are we supposed to take him to the doctors office once or twice in a month for a sick again note. Thank god my husband is a stay at home dad or one of us would have lost our jobs months ago. It because of parents sending kids to school sick. Afraid of the wrath from the absence' s...its wrong. Something needs to be done and how dare you people talk about kindergarten statistics without looking at the whole big picture and start pointing fingers without any deep investigating being done first. Your whole article should have been on the abnormally high rate of ill kindergarten students in America and what can we do to help this terrible situation. Not blame parents for high numbers of kindergarten absences.