October 20th, 2014

Early Attendance Impacts Grit

Absenteeism in kindergarten can affect whether a child develops the grit and perseverance needed to succeed in school, according to a new study by researcher Michael Gottfried at the University of California Santa Barbara. The shows the negative impact of chronic absenteeism on both academic performance and social-emotional skills needed to persist and engage in learning. The effects are particularly pronounced among students who miss four or more weeks of school.

The study, accepted for publication in August 2014 in the Journal of Education for Students Placed at Risk, examines results for kindergarten tests measuring reading and math ability, as well as six social and emotional skills.

For the analysis, Gottfried used a U.S. Department of Education data base that tracks 10,740 students. That data base, known as the Early Childhood Longitudinal Study, includes results for kindergarten tests measuring reading and math ability, as well as six social and emotional skills.

While many researchers define chronic absence as missing 10 percent of the school year or about 18 days, Gottfried used the available data to divide the absentee students into two levels — those missing 11 to 19 days (what he calls “moderate”) and those missing 20 or more days (which he calls “strong”).

Gottfried’s findings include:

  • About 13 percent of the students were chronically absent — 10 percent of them at the moderate level and 3 percent at the strong level.
  • Chronically absent students at both levels performed below their better-attending peers on math and reading skills assessments. The differences were wider in math than reading, and more significant for those missing a month or more than for those at the moderate level.
  • Chronic absence is associated with a lack of certain social skills, including a child’s ability to pay attention, work independently, adapt to change and persist in tasks. It also reflects a lack of eagerness to learn new things and a lack of engagement in school. Again, the differences are greater for the students who miss more school. Poor attendance did not correlate with a child’s ability to control emotions or make friends.
  •  A comparison of social skills testing done in the fall and spring of the kindergarten years found that most students started school with similar levels of engagement. Those with worse attendance showed decreases in
    their engagement in school and eagerness to learn by the spring testing.
  • Family circumstances mattered for chronic absence. Students from low-income families whose parents were
    not married were more likely to be chronically absent.
  • Parent involvement mattered for chronic absence. Students with lower absences had parents who were more
    likely to take them to book stores, music lessons or tutoring, among other activities.
  • Attending preschool mattered. Students who did not attend preschool were more likely to be chronically absent
    in kindergarten.

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