Every state department of education measures the average daily attendance in their schools yet very few measure chronic absenteeism. This may seem like different names for the same statistic, but in fact, understanding chronic absenteeism is critical to closing the achievement gap in our schools.
“The Importance of Being in School: A Report on Absenteeism in the Nation’s Public Schools,” a report prepared by Get Schooled and the Center for Social Organization of Schools at Johns Hopkins University, was released earlier this year. It describes the prevalence of chronic absenteeism, its impact on student achievement, and possible solutions.
Chronic absenteeism is not the same as truancy or average daily attendance – the attendance rate schools use for state report cards and federal accountability. Chronic absenteeism means missing 10 percent of a school year for any reason. A school can have average daily attendance of 90 percent and still have 40 percent of its students chronically absent, because on different days, different students make up that 90 percent. Yet only six states gather data related to this issue: Georgia, Florida, Maryland, Nebraska, Oregon and Rhode Island.
Chronic absenteeism is most prevalent among low-income students. And research has proven that missing school matters:
- In a nationally representative data set, chronic absence in kindergarten was associated with lower academic performance in first grade. The impact is twice as great for students from low-income families.
- A Baltimore study found a strong relationship between sixth-grade attendance and the percentage of students graduating on time or within a year of their expected high school graduation.
Authors of the report offered a three-step solution of measure, monitor and act to this crisis. Government at all levels needs to regularly measure and report the rates of chronic absenteeism and regular attendance (missing five days or less a year) for every school. Early warning systems are critical. And state governments, school districts and community organizations need to work together and with parents and students to encourage regular school attendance.
Read the full report and PowerPoint that can be used as a presentation tool.