In 2012, 13.1 percent of Arkansas kindergarten students missed at least 10 percent of the school year, or 18 days. More than 10 percent of kindergarten students were chronically absent in two out of every three Arkansas school districts in 2013.
That chronic absenteeism puts students at risk of falling behind their peers as they age. The Make Every Day Count campaign is trying to keep that from happening.
Spearheaded by the Campaign for Grade-Level Reading, the effort also involves the Winthrop Rockefeller Foundation, which is funding it, and Arkansas Advocates for Children and Families, which is doing most of the data collection. The group Attendance Works is leading the national effort against chronic absenteeism.
The state campaign is asking districts to commit to working with it for a year. Plans will be created that will be implemented in 2014-15, with special attention paid to kindergarten through the first three grades, which is the focus of the Campaign for Grade-Level Reading. Strategies will be tailored to individual districts.
“We’re going to work with them,” said Arkansas Advocates’ Jerri Derlikowsky. “I think they’re going to know best what’s best for their district, but we are going to suggest some things that have been tried in other locations.”
Clear links exist between school attendance, school performance, and family income. Seventy-eight percent of chronically absent students were on free lunch in 2012, and more than half of that group scored either basic or below basic on benchmark exams.
Attendance numbers get better with each passing year during the early grades. By the third grade, about 8.4 percent of students miss at least 18 days, and the number of Arkansas school districts with more than 10 percent chronic absenteeism rates drops from two in three to one in four, according to Arkansas Advocates.
The numbers continue to improve until the middle grades, when more students begin missing more class because of truancy issues. According to the Attendance Works website, chronic absenteeism among sixth-graders is a clear predictor of a student’s dropping out. By the ninth grade, missing 20 percent of school days better predicts a student will drop out than does test scores.