If your child is chronically absent from school, or even if you think nothing of taking them out for a few days so your family can enjoy a vacation during non-peak times, they may feel the effects of those missed school days throughout their education, a new study published in the American Academy of Pediatrics states.
The study, titled The Link Between School Attendance and Good Health states that more than 6.5 million children in the U.S. miss more than 15 days of school annually. The study does state that that number varies among state and that socioeconomic factors definitely have an impact on school absence, but the effects of those absences put children at "risk for poor school performance and school dropout," which can have long term effects.
"As early as kindergarten, missing more school affects things like third-grade reading scores, third-grade math scores," Dr. Mandy Allison, one of the authors the study said, the CBC reports. "What we also know is that missing school in younger grades leads to missing school in older grades, and missing school in older grades is linked to school dropout."
Allison points out in the study that increased absenteeism can contribute to an increased risk of "unhealthy behaviors as adolescents and young adults as well as poor long-term health outcomes." The study states that chronic absenteeism — missing school for any number of reasons including excused absences and suspensions — is defined by missing 10% or more of the school year, which normally equals about 18 missed days.
While many parents feel fine keeping their kids out of school for a family vacation or anytime the child asks to stay home, the study pointed out that students with poor attendance "score lower than their peers who attend school regularly on national skills assessments, regardless of race or ethnicity." It also stated that chronic absenteeism in children as young as sixth grade could be an indicator of the child eventually dropping out of school completely.
While there are many factors that can influence a child's absenteeism such as socioeconomic factors, preventable illnesses, fear of bullying or frustration with their learning environment, Dr. Allison suggested that pediatricians can take a more active role in encouraging attendance in their patients by speaking openly on the following topics:
- Asking about the number of school days missed in the past month at every visit, when appropriate.
- Documenting children's medical needs for an Individualized education program when needed for access to services in school.
- Providing firm guidance on when a child should stay home sick and when a child can attend school.
- Avoiding writing excuses for school absences when the absence was not appropriate. That means encouraging patients who are well enough to return to school immediately after their medical appointments.
While there are oftentimes that school absences can't be avoided, it's eye-opening to see how extended absences can affect a child's health and education long term.