Early Learning Digest

The Danger of Chronic Absenteeism: Why School Attendance Matters

"More than 6 million students across the nation missed over 15 days of school during the 2013-2014 school year."

Since attendance is essential for success in school, there is a growing concern about a hidden education crisis known as chronic absenteeism.

Chronic absenteeism refers to students who miss at least 10 percent of the school days within a school year—whether excused or unexcused. More than 6 million students across the nation missed over 15 days of school during the 2013-2014 school year. This means that approximately 1 in 7 students were chronically absent.

Attendance Works poster
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Why is this a concern?

The U.S. Department of Education finds that absenteeism is a primary cause of low academic achievement and a powerful predictor of students dropping out of school. Even among the lowest grades, missing 10 percent of the school year (2 or 3 days a month) can cause students to get behind in math and reading.

A chronic absenteeism report released by the U.S. Department of Education found that:

  1. Disadvantaged communities and low-income students are more at risk.
  2. Various ethnic groups may be more vulnerable, such as American Indians being at highest risk with more than 20 percent chronically absent during the 2013-2014 school year.
  3. Students who do not have English as their primary language may be more susceptible to chronic absenteeism.
  4. Students with disabilities, students who move frequently, and those involved with the juvenile justice system have a higher rate of absenteeism.

Attendance Awareness Month: “Engagement = Attendance”

To recognize this national concern, September is designated as Attendance Awareness Month. This year’s theme is “Engagement = Attendance” with the focus on creating a welcoming and engaging school environment so that students are motivated to be in school. As the fifth annual Attendance Awareness Month, schools are increasing awareness of absenteeism by educating students, parents and communities through information and activities.

During Attendance Awareness Month, schools focus on bringing attention to the consequences of chronic absenteeism and implement ideas on how to improve attendance. Some topics for discussion may include how poor attendance habits translate into poor work habits or how chronic absenteeism influences younger students who quickly fall behind in crucial subjects.

School districts have found that raising awareness improves attendance. For example, Grand Rapids, Michigan found that absenteeism decreased 25 percent by using a consistent community campaign known as Challenge 5. This challenger encouraged students and parents to aim for less than 5 absent days each school year.

Common recommendations to help improve absenteeism include:

  1. Educate families and students on school attendance goals.
  2. Understand health concerns that may be specific for individual students.
  3. Involve families, students, and communities in attendance-focused activities.
  4. Provide incentives for attendance with contests, awards and recognition.
  5. Improve transportation by modifying bus routes or encouraging carpools.
  6. Track school data to record improvement in absentee rate.
  7. Provide mentoring opportunities through the community to inspire students to attend school.
  8. Rely on social health professionals to assist social situations that threaten a student’s feelings of safety – such as bullying, demeaning language, or concern for physical harm.

Useful resources are available to help teachers and schools promote Attendance Awareness Month, including the website Attendance Works. This organization offers general information and plenty of helpful tools. The U.S. Department of Education also provides tips ideas and eye-opening data to make more families aware of how important it is for students to attend school.