Report: School Attendance Gap Starts Early
JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. – As kindergarteners and their parents across Missouri settle into the new school year, a new report predicts many children are at risk of missing enough school to significantly impact their social and academic achievement long into the future.
Hedy Chang is the director of Attendance Works, a California-based education support group that looked at attendance gaps across the country and found at least 10 percent of kindergarteners and first-graders miss nearly a month of school. Chang says that attendance gap can develop into an achievement gap.
"Now by third grade, you may show up, but now you can't read and so you're falling behind even though you're in the classroom,” she explains. “Now you're in middle school, and they don't like school, it's not a positive place for them, so they may act out. "
Chang says while older students are notorious for skipping school, younger children tend to be absent for reasons out of their control, like medical, dental or safety issues, particularly in low-income communities.
The report recommends schools take the time to get to the root of those absences and look for ways to address them, such as promoting mobile dental clinics or creating so-called walking school buses, where adults create routes through neighborhoods and take turns walking alongside children to school.
Chang says in Missouri and nationwide, chronic absenteeism takes the largest toll on the most vulnerable students – those living in poverty, with special needs, and minorities.
"Both the consequences are greater because they depend on school to learn to read, but they also are facing these pretty significant barriers," she points out.
According to state data, last year Missouri full day kindergartners had one of the worst attendance records in the state, topped only by that of high school students.