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September 4, 2015

School attendance counts when it comes to academic achievement. What’s more, absenteeism needs to be addressed early in the school year and with the youngest students before it becomes a chronic problem. That’s the argument of Attendance Works, a nonprofit initiative to encourage school attendance.

When New Jersey fourth graders were asked in 2011 and 2013 if they had been absent three or more times in the previous month, 21 percent said “yes,” according to research by the organization. For eighth graders, the rate was 19 percent. Three or more days absent from school in a month is considered high absenteeism.

In New Jersey, absenteeism was highest among Latinos (26 percent for 4th graders and 21 percent for eighth graders), followed by African-Americans (25 percent and 20 percent, correspondingly.) It was lowest for Asians (14 percent for fourth graders; 6 percent for eighth graders), with whites exhibiting high absenteeism rates of 19 and 17 percent.

Predictably, children from low-income families and those with disabilities had the highest rates of absenteeism. According to Attendance Works, most absenteeism is not related to truancy but to health and trauma issues, such as asthma, dental problems, and mental health.

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