How much is missing too much school?

Robyn Lightcap is director of ReadySetSoar, part of Learn to Earn Dayton, that is focused on helping children get ready for kindergarten and read proficiently by third grade.

Children can’t learn if they’re not in school – on time, every day.

Are young children missing too much school? Yes.

Local researchers looked at three years of attendance records for kindergarten through third-graders in seven of Montgomery County’s 16 school districts (not including Dayton Public Schools). They found:

  • More than 1 in 5 kindergartners misses more than 18 days per year.
  • 10 percent of third-graders miss more than 18 days.

If a child misses two days per month, that means he or she was out for more than three weeks of the school year. That is a lot of lost learning. And absences can quickly add up without anyone noticing if the days are spread out. Before you know it, children’s achievement can be dramatically reduced.

The students in this study who had “satisfactory” attendance in their first years in school– missing fewer than nine days – had higher reading and math scores in third grade. The difference was an impressive additional 10 points or more on Ohio’s Achievement Assessment in math, an additional five to nine points in reading.

Of course, children shouldn’t come to school when they’re sick. But sometimes there’s a temptation to think, “He’s only in first grade. It won’t hurt if he stays home.”

Attendance does count. Children need to know that their families, their teachers and others whom they look up to think that being in school is important.

How can parents encourage good attendance?

Make sure your children get enough sleep and eat well. They’ll be healthier and less likely to miss school if they have a regular bed time and get good meals.

For their part, many principals and teachers are paying close attention to which specific students are missing school or are at-risk of being chronically absent – before their absences rack up.

A district or school can have a strong or acceptable average daily attendance rate and still have too many children who are missing in action. In fact, a good average may even mask a high chronic absence rate for a select few children.

Those children can make it difficult for a teacher to be successful with the rest of her students because she has to keep circling back over material or spending time with a few, shortchanging the many.

When researchers dug into our local data, they also found that children who scored poorly on their kindergarten readiness test were more likely to miss large numbers of days in kindergarten. Flagging students with low readiness scores can help identify – in advance – which students and families may need extra encouragement to have strong attendance.

Researchers also found more than one in four kindergarten through third-grade students missed 10 to 17 days. That’s a lot of children who could quickly fall into a range where, more often than not, they’ll struggle to make strong achievement gains.

It’s September. If a child already has been absent two, three or four days, the child’s teacher, the child and the family need to talk about the reason for the absences. Was the child sick or is something else going on?

Teachers can only do their jobs well if their students are present. Students will only succeed if they’re in class every day.

Do you know a child who’s missing out on school? Now is the time to step in.

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