My 18-month-old is the Carrie Bradshaw of toddlers. While the stereotypical toddler loves to tear off her shoes the second she gets home, mine loves to wear shoes at all times. She loves to try them on. She loves to dig through her closet for a pair she hasn’t worn in awhile. And while I typically feed her interest with hand-me-downs from her cousins, nothing says the first day of school like a new pair of shoes. So, like the rest of the parents out there, this month I will be engaging in the annual ritual known as back-to-school shopping.
As parents and communities, we are pretty good at getting kids the school supplies they need through back-to-school shopping, backpack programs, and more. Where we often fall short is the next step: ensuring kids actually go to school every day.
In Arkansas, more than one in 10 kindergarten and first-grade students are chronically absent, missing more than 10 percent of the school year because of excused or unexcused absences. These early problems with absenteeism can have a ripple effect on how much our kids learn from kindergarten through high school.
Students who are chronically absent are less likely to read on grade level
Students that don’t read on grade-level by the end of third grade are four times more likely to drop out of high school
By middle school, chronic absence becomes one of the leading indicators that a child will drop out of high school
By ninth grade, chronic absence is a better indicator that a student will drop-out than how well that student did on eighth grade tests
In 2014-2015, third graders from low-income families were more than twice as likely to be chronically absent than those who were not. That being said, this is a universal barrier to achievement. Even higher-income students in Arkansas are more likely to have lower reading scores when they are chronically absent, which makes perfect sense. If a student misses 18 days days throughout the school year, how can she keep up with her peers going to school every day?
In the world of complicated and overwhelming problems–closing achievement gaps, strengthening Arkansas schools, preparing our state’s future workforce–getting our kids to school every day is so simple and obvious. And yet we still struggle to do just that. So many of us forget that kids need to be at school in order to learn in school.
This September, WRF and the Arkansas Campaign for Grade-Level Reading (AR-GLR) will recognize Attendance Awareness Month, part of a nationwide movement intended to convey the message that every school day counts. And we invite you to join us.
Chronic absence isn’t just about truancy or willfully skipping school. Children in Arkansas stay home because of a number of reasons like dental disease, unreliable transportation, housing issues, and bullying. Some students aren’t in school simply because their parents don’t understand how absences, even when children are young, can have such a long-term, critical influence on how well they do in kindergarten through high school.
Think about what you can do within your family and community to help get more kids to school every day. We can’t afford to think of absenteeism as simply an administrative problem or blame children and their parents for not having the motivation. Schools and parents can’t do this alone. It will take entire communities–parents, business leaders, doctors, faith community leaders, volunteers, and policy makers–to get our students to school every day. Good attendance is central to student achievement, school improvement, and community development. All of our investments in curricula and lesson plans won’t amount to much if students aren’t showing up to learn.
This year, not only will you see me in the shoe aisle in August, but you’ll also see my child in school every day. So join us in getting the word out this September during Attendance Awareness Month that it's up to all of us to Make Every Day Count for our kids in school.
Learn more about AR-GLR’s research and community-driven solutions for chronic absence here, and join us in our effort to make every day count.