This study looks at attendance in the early grades of elementary school. In particular, The researchers focus on students enrolled in Pre-Kindergarten (PreK) and Kindergarten (K). The researchers follow these young students over several years to determine their pattern of chronic absence (CA), defined as missing more than one-ninth of days enrolled, and their later attendance and academic outcomes.
The researchers found that students who are CA in both PreK and K often continue to be CA in later years, e.g. one-half of them will be CA the following year. They are also more likely to be retained, with more than a quarter being retained by Grade 3. Interestingly, for students who experience a first episode of CA in K the consequences are also continued low attendance, and lower academic outcomes compared to their peers who attend school more regularly. If attendance patterns for these students change, the impact of CA can be reduced. This is important because it suggests that it’s never too late to improve attendance.
One of the more striking findings was that Head Start students began with, and maintained higher rates of attendance compared with similar students. While they underperformed in reading and math in Grades 1 and 2, by Grade 3, they performed as well as their peers on the state assessments; perhaps their high attendance finally paid off. Further study is needed to explore this pattern.
One area of concern is the consistent underperformance of children who were in home care prior to enrolling in K. The researchers were surprised to find that these students shared similar demographic characteristics with the Head Start students in the study. The researchers discovered that these students may have met the economic qualifications for Head Start in that they qualified for “free” meals in K. A concerted effort needs to be made to determine why they are not attending a pre-school program, and to ensure that all qualified children are enrolled in Head Start or public school PreK.