A surprising conclusion was reached when one school district in California measured absentee rates: Kindergartners have the highest truancy of elementary school students.
When the Franklin-McKinley School District in San Jose tracked results of attendance figures, the ts showed that more than a third of the students missing school were between 4 and 6 years old. 22 percent of the K-8 district’s students had attendance problems overall.
Reasons for truancy in this age group include parents pulling them out of class, and the kids are not playing hooky. The trend is also showing up in in other regions in the United States, and politicians from Sacramento to Washington DC are joining school officials in a campaign to remedy the problem.
The consequences of missing school are long lasting. Reasons for missing school include lack of transportation and family emergencies. They also include vacations and errands.
When children miss days in the first month of school, poor attendance can result later in the year. This hurts reading proficiency by the third grade, as evidenced by a study in Santa Clara and San Mateo counties. Young truants are more at risk for dropping out later.
Absenteeism is also costly, with districts losing from $40 to $60 in state aid for every missed day of school, whether excused or not. And the problem is most acute in schools serving poor and minority students.
“Our best efforts to improve student achievement and fix failing schools won’t work if the students aren’t coming to class,” said Hedy Chang, a San Francisco-based education advocate who has studied absenteeism nationwide.
So educators are enlisting students and targeting parents in their campaign to reduce absenteeism in elementary schools, with a special focus on the earliest grades. Franklin-McKinley has improved tracking of absences and pounded the attendance message at back-to-school nights, in daily announcements and on bulletin boards.