What is Chronic Absenteeism and Why It Matters in 2016

June 16, 2016

Last week, the U.S. Department of Education released a new report on chronic absenteeism derived from the 2013-2014 Civil Rights Data Collection (CRDC) survey. The survey examined 95,000 schools across the nation to unveil the striking number of students who are chronically absent each year. By shedding light on this truth, the Department of Education is trying to “reduce and ultimately eliminate chronic absenteeism so that all students have a better chance of reaching their full potential.”

The best way to begin this reform is to inform. Keep reading to learn the impact of chronic absenteeism on students and why it is important to improve in 2016.

What Is Chronic Absenteeism?

Students who are chronically absent have missed 15 days or more of school in a single year. Though commonly caused by tremendous adversity, such as poverty, health challenges, community violence, or difficult family circumstances, students who miss 10% of the school year (about two days each month) are more likely to fall behind or drop out.

Typically, the reasons for students’ chronic absence falls into one of three categories:

  1. They cannot attend school due to illness, housing instability, or involvement in the criminal justice system.
  2. They will not attend school to avoid bullying or harassment.
  3. They do not attend school because they do not see the value of being there, family responsibilities and the need to work, or nothing or no one is stopping them from skipping school.

For a better chance of preventing chronic absenteeism, it is essential to understand which students are most at risk and why.

How Many Students Were Chronically Absent In 2013-14 According To The CRDC?

Over 6 million students missed 15 or more days of school in 2013-14. That means one in eight students, 13% of the student population, are at risk for facing challenging developmental issues.

Based on the research, rates are the highest in high school with 20% of students chronically absent in the 2013-14 school year. That rate drops to 12% for middle school students, and students in elementary school saw the lowest chronic absenteeism rate with 10%.

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via ed.gov

This statistic holds true for every race and ethnicity, gender, disability, and English learner. Looking at the chart below you will see each subgroup of students’ likelihood of chronic absenteeism spikes at the high school level.

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via ed.gov

Where In The U.S. Were Students Experiencing Chronic Absenteeism The Most?

According to the Department of Education’s report, Washington, D.C. has the highest rate of absenteeism in the nation with 31.5% of students chronically absent. Going down the list, Mississippi reported a 15.8% absentee rate, Alabama had 12.5%, while Florida had the lowest rate in the nation with 4.5%.

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via ed.gov

Examining how often students are missing school by state will help when allocating resources for upcoming school years.

Why Does Chronic Absenteeism Matter?

Students who are chronically absent from school are less likely to be reading at grade level, preventing them from reaching early learning milestones. Students who cannot read at grade level by the end of third grade are four times more likely to drop out of high school.

It is often seen that chronic absenteeism is a better predictor of a student’s likelihood to graduate than test scores. And this directly impacts a student’s future.

A high school dropout, a student who most likely was chronically absent, is more likely to suffer from poverty, diminished health, and involvement in the criminal justice system. Some of the exact reasons to why they may have been missing school in the first place.

So how can we stop this vicious circle? Why does understanding chronic absenteeism matter so much?

Because we can do something about it.

How Can We Prevent Or Reduce Chronic Absenteeism?

The issue of students attending school every day is not a new issue. It is problem that has our plagued our nation for many years. And while graduation rates have continued to rise, reports like the CRDC are important in keeping us grounded to the fact there is still more work to be done.

In 2014, President Barack Obama established the “My Brother’s Keeper Success Mentor Initiative.” The initiative dives into the data of the nation’s highest need students to develop a mentor model to help them succeed.

“That’s what ‘My Brother’s Keeper’ is all about. Helping more of our young people stay on track. Providing the support they need to think more broadly about their future. Building on what works – when it works, in those critical life-changing moments.”

– President Barack Obama, February 27, 2014

The federal government has also launched an initiative to help states, school districts, and communities find the root causes of chronic absenteeism. The Every Student, Every Day initiative combines the efforts of the White House, the U.S. Departments of Education, Health and Human Services, Housing and Urban Development and Justice as part of the “My Brother’s Keeper” initiative. Each year, conferences and summits are held to continue the analysis of how to make a difference in these schools for our students.

Teachers and administrators can also make a personal effort in changing the lives of their students by encouraging good attendance through Positive Behavior Reinforcement programs. These incentive-based programs motivate students to reach educational and behavioral goals by earning rewards.

Nationwide, 2.8 million K-12 students received one or more out-of-school suspensions. In other words, because of poor behavior, schools are forced to stop students from coming to school. Positive Behavior Reinforcement programs help prevent administrators from having to make this decision by improving behavior and grades which encourages better attendance.

Many schools have already seen the benefits of introducing these programs. Most notably, the Alabama State Department of Education and the schools in LaFayette County, Mississippi. You can learn more about the program’s success here.

For 2016, the awareness of chronic absenteeism is more important than ever. The abundance of technology gives students more temptation to digitally enter the classroom rather than physically, and provides more distractions, and more chances of cyberbullying or harassment. But technology also allows schools and districts to gather more data on their students to understand their education journey better and improve it.

So let’s use this data for good, and find more ways to prevent and reduce chronic absenteeism.

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