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Study: Consistent School Attendance Matters in Pre-K

Prekindergartners and kindergartners who are chronically absent are more likely than regularly attending students to continue to miss school in later grades and to be held back by grade 3, according to a new study.

The study conducted by the Baltimore Education Research Consortium followed three separate groups totaling nearly 14,000 students in pre-K and kindergarten in Baltimore City Schools through 3rd grade to determine patterns of chronic absence and later attendance and academic performance. Chronically absent is defined as missing more than 20 days in a school year.

According to the report, a snapshot of the school district shows that 21.7 percent of the all prekindergartners enrolled in the 2006-2007 school year were chronically absent. That figure rose to a high of 27.4 percent of enrolled prekindergartners in 2009-2010. Last school year, 26.5 percent were absent.

Researchers followed nearly 3,400 students enrolled in pre-K in 2006-2007; nearly 6,400 kindergartners enrolled in 2007-2008; and almost 4,100 kindergartners enrolled in 2008-2009. The students were followed through 3rd grade, when they take state standardized assessments, according to consortium executive director Faith Connolly, who co-wrote the report with Linda S. Olson.

The study found that one-half of early learners who were chronically absent in pre-K and kindergarten continued to miss as much school the following year. More than a quarter of those chronically absent children were retained by grade 3.

"Having so many children missing so many days early in their academic careers has negative consequences for students, classroom instruction, and schools. The long-term impact is far reaching, potentially impacting the city's workforce development and broader society, in general," the report said.

But the study noted that Head Start students maintained better attendance records when compared with similar kids. And though their academic performance fell short in 1st and 2nd grade, they had caught up and performed as well as peers on the 3rd grade assessments, the study said.

The report notes that family plays an important role in determining whether students get to school. Researchers are planning to use their findings to figure out the barriers and challenges that families face in getting kids to schools regularly and what can be done to help them.

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