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Skipping school: Parents, be warned -- time out adds up

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In most states, the school year is 180 days long. You might think that’s plenty of time for kids to absorb the curriculum, and still have a few days here and there out of the classroom, especially when students are in kindergarten or first grade.

But before you let your child stay home for a reason other than illness -- like a family vacation, a special event, or just extra time to sleep in -- you might want to think again.

Dr. Bob Pianta, dean of the Curry School of Education at the University of Virginia, and his fellow researchers followed 1,300 kids from birth through high school and examined trends in school attendance. They found missing school, starting in kindergarten, could become a habit.

“If someone is on the upper edge of absenteeism in any given year, they tend to be on the upper edge of absenteeism across the years. And when you start looking across years, they miss a lot of school," Pianta said.

The researchers found chronically absent students missed 189 days between kindergarten and eighth grade, or more than a full year. Those missed opportunities for learning add up.

“Absences between kindergarten and eighth grade tend to predict poor performance at age 15,” Pianta said.

The absenteeism had an effect on standardized test scores and GPA. Students also exhibited sadness and withdrawal. Pianta said if a child asks to skip school, it could indicate an underlying problem that should be addressed.

“Parents have to ask these questions in gentle and subtle ways," Pianta said.

Start by asking who they hang out with during the school day and who they sit with at lunch. How do they feel about their teachers? Which classes do they like least and why? This is advice that could help parents and teachers increase a child’s school attendance.

The researchers say by the end of the eighth grade, a typical child misses around 63 days. That’s about six to eight absences a year.