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California Research Shows Early Truancy Undermines School Readiness

California education leaders and national researchers held a policy forum on May 19 on the crippling effects of chronic absence on school achievement.

While it's not news that kids don't learn well when they don't come to school, new research shows that chronic absence starts very young and can undermine children's gains in school readiness made while in preschool. In California, budget cuts are hampering efforts to boost school attendance.

San Francisco-based Attendance Works examined what happens to Oakland children who arrive school-ready in kindergarten but rack up absences in the early grades. Their analysis, conducted in partnership with Applied Survey Research, showed that the effect of school readiness skills nurtured in preschool can fade by 3rd grade for students who are chronically absent in kindergarten and 1st grade.

In Oakland, nearly one in seven students missed 10 percent of the 2009-2010 school year, and 17 percent of kindergarten students were chronically absent. Oakland's African-American elementary students are three times more likely than white students and twice as likely as Latinos to miss 10 percent of school days.

Lots of missed days don't necessarily equate to chronic truancy in a child's early school career. More often, they point to a need for wraparound services that support children's ability to attend school regularly, Hedy Chang, director of Attendance Works, said in a press release.

"Asthma or diabetes can keep a student home from school. So can neighborhood violence and schoolyard bullying," Chang said. "Schools need to give kids an inviting and engaging place to learn. Community organizations can help schools build a culture of attendance and break down the barriers that keep students from coming to school."

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