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What is Chronic Absenteeism?

By Team Kinvolved

While we all know it is vital for students to be present in school, understanding the differences between attendance types—as well as the reasons students are absent—can be much more complex.

In order to overcome attendance issues, we must first understand them. Once understood, we are better equipped to implement plans that address them. In this article, we’ll explore the common terms we often hear in regards to attendance issues so that we can better understand the differences.

Three Common Attendance Terms

Chronic absenteeism is defined as missing ten percent or more of the academic year for any reason. This includes excused and unexcused absences, suspensions, and time missed due to changing schools.

Chronic absenteeism differs from both Average Daily Attendance (ADA) and Truancy. 

ADA reveals how many students show up each day on average. However, it doesn’t look at how many students—nor which students—are academically at risk due to the number of accumulated absences.

Truancy generally refers to unexcused absences. Each state defines truancy differently. For example, the state of Connecticut defines truancy as four unexcused absences in one month or ten unexcused absences in a school year, whereas California defines truancy as missing more than 30 minutes of instruction without an excuse three times during a school year.

What's the Difference Between Chronic Absence and Truancy?

Since truancy has a specific focus on unexcused absences, many states address it with processes and protocols that concentrate on compliance and punitive consequences. These protocols can include repercussions for absences in order to deter students skipping class, mandatory attendance requirements to motivate students to show up, and unexcused absence policies that encourage students and families to communicate about an absence to ensure it is excused. Truancy lies more on a micro level, looking at individual instances in a short-term timeframe, and often handles them with a punitive action such as detention. 

Chronic absenteeism lies more on a macro level and encompasses all types of absences (both excused and unexcused) over a longer timeframe. The focus shifts from individual instances to the grander repercussions on a student’s life that can compound over time. When districts monitor chronic absenteeism, they acknowledge a student can miss school for understandable reasons that do not warrant a punitive response such as a prolonged illness, difficulties with housing or food, and caring for a family member. 

When a student is chronically absent, their missed instruction time can have statistically significant impacts on their life. Research shows the long-term impact of chronic absenteeism is correlated to increased rates of high school dropout, adverse health outcomes and poverty in adulthood, and an increased likelihood of interacting with the criminal justice system.

A study of graduation patterns in Chicago Public Schools found that the number of days a student was absent in eighth grade was eight times more predictive of freshman year course failure than eighth grade test scores. The same study found that freshman year absences were nearly as predictive of graduation rates as grade point average (GPA) and course failures.

More broadly, chronic absenteeism has also been linked to lower achievement in reading and math in later grades, as well as poor socioemotional outcomes.

Because of the dramatic impact chronic absenteeism can have on a student’s life, we must create district-wide systems and protocols that help us monitor chronic absenteeism and intervene as soon as we see early warning signs.

In the coming weeks, we’ll further explore the factors that cause chronic absenteeism as well as effective practices districts can take to help reduce chronic absenteeism.

How are you monitoring chronic absenteeism, and more importantly the reasons for days missed, in your school or district?

Tags: attendance

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For chronically absent students, the more qualified hands on deck—those with watchful eyes, listening ears, and open hearts—the better the chance they have to succeed. This e-book showcases the voices, and heartbeats, of our educators, who share how their strategies for building student and family relationships, having tough conversations, and celebrating bright spots. The teachers and leaders featured here face real challenges and save real lives every day, and the ability to see things from their perspective drives our work.

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