Report Highlights Epidemic of Chronic Absences


A new report suggests that significant education achievement gaps present across the country exist due to the increasing frequency of chronic absenteeism, especially among low-income and minority students.

While school districts typically focus on students who skip school, the report, put together by nonprofits Attendance Works and the Healthy Schools Campaign, argue that absenteeism rates among kindergartners are almost as high as among high school freshmen.  According to the report, 1 in 10 kindergarten students misses about 18 days of school – almost an entire month – each year.

The majority of those absences are excused.  According to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the number one reason for absenteeism is asthma, accounting for 14 million absences across the country, or one-third of all missed school days.  Although tooth decay is five times more common than asthma, it only makes up 2 million absences each year.

The report stresses the importance of looking at all causes of chronic absenteeism.  It suggests that if school districts do not keep track of the reasons behind a student’s continued absence, they may miss important information about their health, writes Emma Brown for The Washington Post.

A 2012 study on the subject concluded that when a kindergartner is absent, they miss important lessons, including those in reading.  When those absences continue, it becomes harder for students to keep up with their peers.  The report concludes that such chronic absenteeism, even as early as in the first grade, can lead to a decrease in graduation rates.

“These early attendance gaps can turn into achievement gaps, which contribute to our graduation gaps,” said Hedy Chang, director of Attendance Works and an author of the report. “We need to know who is missing too much school, when and where absences are mostly likely to occur, and why students are chronically absent. This information is essential to targeting the right resources so we turn around poor attendance, especially for the students most at risk.”

Although official data on chronic absenteeism in early childhood is not readily available, the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), the test taken nationwide in fourth and eighth grades, offers a small glimpse into the effects.

Students taking the exam must first answer questions pertaining to how often they were absent from school in the previous month.  Across the country, black and Hispanic students were more likely to report being absent three or more times than were white students.  In addition, low-income students were more likely to report being frequently absent than more affluent students.