Blog Article

Iowa Report Details Chronic Absence in the Early Grades

April 27, 2016

An analysis of absenteeism in Iowa of early-elementary students from the 2010-11 school year through third grade in 2013-14 shows that nearly 40 percent of elementary schools have rates of chronic absence among kindergartners in excess of 10 percent.

Using data on over 37,000 students, the Child Family Policy Center mapped the state’s early education attendance gaps in School Attendance Patterns in Iowa: Chronic Absence in the Early Grades. In the state, a student is considered chronically absent if he or she misses 10 percent or more of school days for any reason. In Iowa, that means 18 days or more in a 180-day school year, the equivalent of nearly a month of school.

With support from the Campaign for Grade Level Reading, CFPC analyzed the Iowa Department of Education’s longitudinal data system. The Iowa analysis shows:

  • Chronic absenteeism starts early with 9 percent of the state’s kindergartners —over 3,500 children—missing too much school. The chronic absence rate then improved through third grade, when 4.5 percent of the same cohort, or nearly 1,500 children, missed 10 percent or more of the school days.
  • Low-income students were three to four times more likely than their peers to be chronically absent across all four school years (2010-14). In kindergarten, 15.4 percent of chronically absent students were eligible for the free lunch program, compared to 4.7 percent of not eligible for the program.
  • Children of color are more likely than peers to miss 10 percent or more of the school year. About 30 percent (29.4%) of Native American and (29.3%) Pacifica Islander students, 20 percent of black students, and 15.3 percent of Hispanic students were chronically absent, compared to 7.5 percent of their white counterparts. At the same time, white kids constituted the largest number of chronically absent students.
  • Students receiving special education services were two to three times more likely to be chronically absent than their peers.

“Given the focus in our state on improving educational outcomes, and with new third grade retention requirements looming next year, this is an issue that merits focused attention,” said Anne Discher, a senior research associate with CFPC. “This report shows a small but significant group of early-elementary students in Iowa is missing substantial amounts of school. A kid who is not at school is a kid who is not learning.”

We’re excited by this report because it highlights the importance of being in school every day possible in the early grades, and the negative impact that too many absences can have on a student’s achievement.

The report states: “Students who have been chronically absent during any year of their early-elementary schooling are less likely than their peers who rarely miss school to be reading proficiently by the end of third grade, an important marker for future academic success. … Among students in this cohort who took the Iowa Assessments in third grade (2013-14 school year), those with regular attendance in each of the early-elementary years were nearly twice as likely to be proficient [in reading] as those who were chronically absent two or more years. They were half again as likely to be proficient as their peers who had been chronically absent one of the four years.”

We also appreciate the report’s spotlight on efforts of communities in the Grade Level Reading Campaign to improve school attendance in the early years in Iowa. “In Iowa, the Campaign is engaging communities across the state around strategies to assure every child is reading proficiently by third grade and specifically around strategies to reduce chronic absence,” the report notes. The communities working with GLR and its focus on attendance “have kick started interest in this issue in Iowa. This group of communities are establishing—and sharing with peers—a variety of exemplary practices.”

Already, 11 GLR Campaign communities in Iowa have begun focusing on attendance as a key strategy to help all students read by 3rd grade. Here’s an example from Council Bluffs:

In Council Bluffs Schools Superintendent Martha Bruckner set a goal for the district to increase the number of students who attend school 95 percent of the time. And she asked the entire community to help.

Within a year, Council Bluffs Community School District met its goal of having 80% of preschool children with less than 5% absenteeism rate, up from 76.5% in 2012-13. For kindergarten students, the percentage increased from 66.57% to 72.91%. Every elementary and middle school had an average daily attendance rate greater than 96 percent in 2013-14. Click here to read the full profile of Council Bluffs’ attendance activities.

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