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Absent or Here? The Rewards of Early, Consistent School Attendance

Absent or Here? The Rewards of Early, Consistent School Attendance

You might think the worst thing about absenteeism is children falling behind academically. True, "playing catch-up" in school is a problem, but did you ever consider the social-emotional consequences for younger children frequently missing preschool or kindergarten? Every day away makes it more difficult for children to re-enter their classroom, participate in activities and projects, and remain part of their group of friends. It's important to establish a pattern of regular attendance very early, a routine for children and families that confirms the importance and value of being at school rather than drifting into chronic absence.


Chronic absence is defined as missing 10% or more of the school year for any reason. Every day counts for young children mastering new things like reading, math, following instructions, becoming positively persistent and being part of a classroom group. For the chronically absent student, academic consequences stack up over time and translate to the inability to master reading by third grade, failing subjects by sixth grade, and actually dropping out by ninth grade. [Read more in the Attendance Works research summary]

Young children thrive on routine. It helps them know what to expect and what they can look forward to; routine gives them a sense of stability and security. For young children, missing school means losing momentum in that daily routine. At age three, four, or five, staying "in flow" helps build confidence, enthusiasm for learning, and behavior management skills that are going to serve them well for a lifetime.


Consider what it may be like to miss a whole week of school at age four. When you return, so much has changed! Friends have made new friends, your place in the group is gone, and you must start over making new friends. The pleasure and achievement of joining in class projects is lost because you weren't there to participate. All your classmates have decorated paper dolls for the Week of the Young Child, but yours is missing from the group on display. You didn't get to make one, you aren't included, you missed out, and this can be devastating when you're four.


Attendance in the early months of school is a predictor of potential chronic absenteeism. Absenteeism is not just a Shasta County problem, it is being addressed nationally. According to the Preschool Attendance in Chicago Public Schools report, "Chronically absent preschool students not only have lower levels of kindergarten readiness but they also are more likely to be chronically absent in subsequent grades." Students who miss 2 to 4 days in September are 5 times more likely than those that miss less than 2 days to be chronically absent throughout the school year. Absenteeism sharply increases for homeless youth and children living in poverty.

In Shasta County, 51% of school districts and charter schools have a higher absenteeism rate than the state average. Shasta County data for 2016-17 shows that kindergarten chronic absences are the highest at approximately 19%, followed by grades 9-12 at about 16%. 8% of preschool students are chronically absent. Those students are missing 10% of the school year!


It's easy to pick up misconceptions about children missing school when they are very young. The following misconceptions* have historically been common to many parents:

  • Attendance isn't important in the early grades.
  • Children can easily make up what has been missed in school.
  • Attendance is more of a compliance issue and less about an opportunity to learn.
  • Absences in the early years do not have an impact on high school graduation.
  • All absences are excusable and justifiable, as long as the parent allows.
  • Only consecutive absences have a negative impact on the child.

*School Absenteeism Summit, Shasta County Office of Education and Reach Higher Shasta, 2018

Going to school is about all kinds of learning, including social-emotional learning, and learning all day, every day. Keeping the absences from adding up is a great first step toward rewards in academic performance as well as social-emotional growth and just having a good time at school. A regular pattern of attendance helps children succeed and it is part of the learning foundation that will carry them all the way through high school, college, and beyond.

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