It stands to reason that regular attendance in school is the first and most fundamental element in the process of teaching and learning. Students aren’t learning when they’re not in school, and chronic absenteeism can set students far behind their peers – often leading to poor performance, retention in grade, or dropping out of school.
For older students, the most effective way of improving attendance is to make sure that students feel engaged, to make learning interesting and exciting so that students want to come to school. The focus shouldn’t be: How do we enforce attendance requirements? The focus should be: How do we make sure our schools are places where our students want to be every day?
But what about our younger students, who are generally not making their own decisions about attending school? A recent RIDE study
, which we have posted on the Rhode Island DataHUB, has found significant occurrences of chronic absenteeism in the early grades – even in kindergarten. What’s worse, we’ve found that students who are chronically absent during kindergarten often enter a downward spiral from which it is very difficult to recover. These children are often chronically absent – missing more than 10 percent of their school days – throughout the early grades. By grade 3, our statewide assessments show that chronically absent students have fallen far behind their peers who have been attending school regularly.
Ending chronic absenteeism in kindergarten may be a key strategy toward improving student achievement across the grade spectrum.
Parents, teachers, and school leaders all share the responsibility for improving attendance among our youngest learners. With that in mind, I have been honored that the Campaign for Grade-Level Reading has asked me to co-chair a new advisory panel on chronic absenteeism in early grades. Along with four other chief state school officers, we will bring together educators, health professionals, and parent advocates to develop a set of proposals to help schools and communities improve school attendance. I welcome your input on this important issue, and I will keep you informed on the progress we are making toward developing our recommendations. As this work moves forward, let’s all do everything we can to improve attendance and to keep our kids in school and learning!