Blog Article

New Head Start Rules Would Shift Approach on Attendance

August 16, 2015

From its start  50 years ago, Head Start has aimed to be a crucible for innovation and best practices in early childhood education. So we’re delighted to see that a proposed set of performance standards would include new rules about addressing absenteeism among the 3- and 4-year-old children attending the program. Still we believe they need to go further. The federal Administration of Children and Families is accepting comments until Sept. 17, and we encourage our allies to join us in urging even more changes to Head Start rules.

The new regulations proposed in June, the first major revision since the standards were created in 1975, acknowledge the growing body of research that demonstrates the importance of regular attendance in preschool. The proposal states:

Consistent with the research mentioned above, the central addition to this section is the requirement that attendance be tracked for each child. We also propose to require programs take actions including attempting to conduct additional home visits and provision of support services, as necessary, to increase child attendance when children have four or more consecutive unexcused absences or are frequently absent.

Attendance Works applauds these steps, but believes the goals of the updated performance standards could be strengthened significantly if revised in several ways. Here are the comments we are submitting, and we encourage our allies to submit similar comments. See this link for instructions on how to submit.

Our recommendations include:

  • Require full-day Head Start programs to use chronic absence, missing 10% of more of days, as an early warning indicator that a student is academically at-risk and requires immediate intervention.  Specifically in section 1302.16 Attendance a.2, language should be revised from using 4 unexcused absences to trigger a response to missing 10% or more of the Head Start program, starting with the second month of school. Chronic absence should be used as a trigger for contacting a child’s parents to ensure the family understands the benefits of regular attendance and to find out about any barriers to attendance. A 10% measure will also help ensure that program staff members reach students with challenges at home. Outreach should be verbal or face-to-face contact, rather than robo-calls. Research from the Baltimore Education Research Consortium demonstrates that absenteeism in the first month of the school year predicted a 50% likelihood that a preschooler will be chronically absent for the rest of the year. This is true whether the absences are excused or unexcused, consecutive or sporadic. Since these early absences often reflect unmanaged health challenges, programs should also consider chronic absence a trigger to check with families about needed health or mental health supports and related services as outlined in section 1302.42. Half-day programs should also monitor which students are missing 10% or more of days, but should be mindful of the contributing factors such as the lack of transportation or other logistical challenges posed by the half-day schedule.
  • Require programs to monitor the percentage of students who are chronically absent not just average daily attendance. The average number of children who show up on any given day can mask the number who are missing so much school they are academically at-risk. Studies of early childhood programs including Head Starts in Chicago, DC and Baltimore show that average daily attendance rates of 85% can hide chronic absence rates of 35% or greater. We suggest revising section 1302.16 to require full-day Head Start programs to monitor and examine the number and proportion of students missing 10% or more.
  • Use chronic absence to monitor need for systemic changes. Chronic absence data can identify both children at-risk of long-term academic challenges and systemic issues impacting Head Start populations. In section 1302.16 we encourage requiring programs to analyze chronic absence data by classroom, program and if possible neighborhood to spot concentrations of chronic absence with an eye toward systemic barriers (e.g. neighborhood safety, problematic program quality and health concerns.)
  • Equip teachers to discuss attendance and chronic absence through regular interactions with students and families. Attendance Works has learned through focus groups with parents of children in Head Start and other early education programs that they consider teachers as trusted messengers about educational opportunity. Those same parents say they hear very little from teachers about how absences can add up. Head Start educators have a unique opportunity to set the stage about why regular attendance is important and what children miss when they’re not in school. We suggest that teachers integrate attention to attendance into parent /teacher conferences and into welcome and orientation programs. Review of attendance data with families by teachers can be integrated into section 1302.34 b2
  • Set targets for improving chronic absence. The proposed regulation requires programs to use academic data to establish a baseline and identify goals for improvement. Attendance Works urges Head Start programs to establish baseline data for chronic absence and set targets for improvement based upon prior levels. In section 1302.102 b2c2 we would suggest adding attendance and chronic absence data as a measure of accountability.
  • Use chronic absence data to identify priorities for community partnerships. Concentrations of chronic absence among students from certain classrooms or neighborhoods could be an indicator of larger systemic issues. In section 1302.53 we recommend that Head Start programs use chronic absence data to understand underlying drivers of absenteeism and identify community based partners to help resolve barriers to regular attendance.




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