Blog Article

Nurturing Everyday Attendance For Our Youngest Students

August 16, 2023

After three years of economic, social and learning disruptions, nurturing every day attendance starting in preschool and kindergarten is more essential than ever. The good news is that chronic absence, even when it reaches high levels, is a solvable problem. We’ve put together four steps to guide efforts to improve attendance in the very early grades.

Why Does Addressing Early Chronic Absence Matter?
Nationwide, chronic absence has nearly doubled, increasing from 16% to nearly 30% between 2019 and 2022.(1) State level data available from California, Ohio and Connecticut show chronic absence is especially high in kindergarten.

Starting in preschool and kindergarten, chronic absence (missing 10% of the school year–or just two days each month–for any reason) is an indicator that students are off-track for learning. Students chronically absent in preschool and kindergarten are more likely to be chronically absent in later grades and much less likely to read and count proficiently by the end of third grade.(2) Equally important, chronic absence is associated with declines in educational engagement, social-emotional development, and executive functioning.(3) Economically challenged students suffer the most, as they typically have less access to resources that would help them make up for the lost opportunities to learn in classrooms.(4)

Chronic absence is also a sign that families are struggling with poverty, unstable housing, lack of access to health care and other barriers that not only affect attendance but the ability of young children to concentrate and learn when they are in the classroom.

Helping our youngest learners and their families to overcome barriers to getting to school and re-establish a routine of daily attendance is essential to developing the social, emotional and academic skills that lay the foundation for early school success.

We know that chronic absence can be solved. Success is possible when districts, schools and community partners use chronic absence data to identify which students are experiencing barriers to getting to school, work together on effective prevention strategies and intervene early when absences begin to climb. It’s essential that partners collaborate to ensure that all families experience the positive conditions for learning at school that encourage showing up in the first place.

Four Key Steps
Here are four key steps to nurture the habit of every day attendance:

1. Warmly Welcome Families

Every positive interaction school staff have with families strengthens the likelihood of consistent on-time attendance and success for the students. Consider these strategies:

Reach out to families with positive letters, personal calls or texts and easy-to-read informational materials
Organize virtual and in person parent gatherings, in-person two-generation playful learning activities, and/or comprehensive year-long home visiting programs

In the aftermath of the pandemic, schools also need to actively welcome and encourage families to go into classrooms and attend in-person events on campus so they can see and appreciate how classroom activities are designed for their children’s development. When families more fully understand the immediate benefit of the classroom experience, the more they are likely to prioritize their children’s attendance.(5)

2. Partner with Children and Families to Promote Attendance, Engagement and Educational Success

Families are essential partners in promoting attendance, engagement and educational success for their children. Schools and community partners should intentionally engage children and their families. Consider these strategies:

Build awareness at school events and encourage families to support each other’s attendance using these interactive exercises.
Offer families handouts sharing why attendance matters and what they can do to support attendance every day.
Encourage young students to track their own daily attendance using a downloadable, child-centered scorecard.
Encourage families to monitor their own attendance and make back up plans for ensuring their children get to school using these student success plans.

3. Offer Supports to Reduce Health-Related Absences

In the aftermath of the pandemic, taking steps to prevent unnecessary health-related absences and helping to keep students healthy is more essential than ever before. Implement these steps:

Collaborate with health providers to offer onsite screening and services, such as dental and eye exams and or immunizations, to prevent and address health conditions early in the school year before they affect students’ attendance and school performance.
Prevent unnecessary absences by encouraging basic hygiene practices that prevent acute illness.
Offer clear guidance about when a child should stay home or show up to school for health-related reasons.
Help families to recognize and respond to anxiety.
Collaborate with caregivers and families to address the needs of students with chronic illnesses For more information, see this guidance from the National Institutes for Health

4. Use Data to Identify Who Needs Additional Support

Analyzing and acting on kindergarten data is vital for attendance and engagement improvements because habits are often formed in the very early school years, and interventions can have a long lasting impact.

Use your data to identify both individual families or groups of young students and families who might need additional support and problem-solving. Data broken down by school, grade, classroom, sub-population and neighborhood of residence can help identify if chronic absence is concentrated in particular student populations or grade levels. If a large proportion of a particular student group is affected by chronic absence, systemic barriers (such as poor access to health, mental health or dental care, transportation or safety challenges, unstable housing or lack of full day kindergarten) may be at play and may require programmatic or policy solutions.

Use Attendance Works free data tools

Who Can Help?
Reducing early chronic absence and addressing the educational inequities laid bare and exacerbated by the Covid-19 pandemic is possible when schools and community partners focus and work together on preventive strategies and early intervention. This is why it is so valuable when partners, like The Campaign for Grade Level Reading, make promoting every day attendance, especially in kindergarten, a top priority for collective action.

Consider our Making the Case handouts to help you persuade community partners to get started on the important work on improving school achievement by reducing chronic absence.




1 Dee, Thomas, Higher Chronic Absenteeism Threatens Academic Recovery
from the COVID 19 Pandemic, Stanford University, August 2023
2 Hedy Chang and Mariajosé Romero, “Present, Engaged, and Accounted For: The Critical Importance of Addressing Chronic Absence in the Early Grades” (New York: National Center for Children in Poverty, September 2008); Stacy B. Ehrlich et al., “Preschool Attendance in Chicago Public Schools: Relationships with Learning Outcomes and Reasons for Absences” (Chicago: University of Chicago Consortium on Chicago School Research, May 2014); University of Rhode Island, “Chronic Absenteeism among Kindergarten Students” (2014)
3 Michael A. Gottfried, “Chronic Absenteeism and Its Effects on Students’ Academic and Socioemotional Outcomes,” Journal of Education for Students Placed at Risk 19, no. 2 (2014): 53–75; Michael Gottfried and Arya Ansari, “Detailing New Dangers: Linking Kindergarten Chronic Absenteeism to Long-Term Declines in Executive Functioning,” The Elementary School Journal 121, no. 3 (March 2021): 484–500;
4 Ready, Douglas D., Socioeconomic Disadvantage, School Attendance, and Early Cognitive Development, The Differential Effects of School Exposure, Sociology of Education, October 2010.
5 Ehrlich et al., “Preschool Attendance in Chicago Public Schools,” p. 34–35.

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