Student Absenteeism

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In schools where at least three-quarters of the students were eligible for the school lunch program, 23 percent of eighth-graders missed three or more days of school in the past month.

Importance

Attendance is an important factor in school success among children and youth. Studies show that better attendance is related to higher academic achievement for students of all backgrounds, but particularly for children with lower socio-economic status.[1],[2] Beginning in kindergarten, students who attend school regularly score higher on tests than their peers who are frequently absent.[3]

Chronic truancy (frequent unexcused absence) is a strong predictor of undesirable outcomes in adolescence, including academic failure, dropping out of school, substance abuse, gang involvement, and criminal activity.[4],[5] However, chronic absence (regardless of reason) is increasingly identified as an important “early warning sign” that a student is at risk for school failure and early dropout. Chronic absenteeism is usually defined as missing ten percent or more of school days. Unfortunately, few school districts currently have the capacity to analyze attendance data to identify those students who are chronically absent.[6]

Many factors can contribute to student absenteeism. Family health or financial concerns, poor school climate, drug and alcohol use, transportation problems, and differing community attitudes towards education are among the conditions that are often associated with a child’s frequent absence from school.[7]

Trends

106_fig1From 1994 to 2005, there was no significant change in the percentage of fourth-grade students who reported that they were absent from school for three or more days in the last month (from 18 percent in 1994 to 19 percent in 2013). However, among eighth-grade students this percentage declined slightly, from 22 percent in 1994 to 19 percent in 2013. (Figure 1)

The percentage of eighth-grade black and Hispanic students who reported missing three or more days of school decreased significantly from 1994 to 2013 (from 27 percent for each group in 1994, to 21 and 20 percent, respectively, in 2013). (Appendix 2)Attendance among fourth-grade students in these groups remained stable from 1994 to 2013. (Appendix 1)

Differences by Race/ Hispanic Origin[8]

106_fig2In 2013, both fourth- and eighth-grade American Indian students were more likely than black, Hispanic, and white students to report they missed three or more days of school in the last month (28 versus 21, 21, and 19 percent, respectively, in fourth grade; and 27 versus 21, 20, and 19 percent, respectively, in eighth grade). At both grade levels, Asian/Pacific Islander students were the least likely to have missed three or more days in the past month (14 percent in fourth grade, and 10 percent in eighth grade). (Figure 2)

 

Differences by Disability Status

106_fig3Students classified as having a disability are more likely than students without a disability to have missed three or more school days within the past month. In 2013, 27 percent of eighth-graders with a disability reported missing three or more school days within the past month, compared with 18 percent of students without a disability. Among fourth-graders, 26 percent of those with a disability reported missing three or more school days within the past month, compared with 19 percent of students without a disability. (Figure 3)

Differences by School-Wide Percentage of Students Eligible for Free or Reduced-Price Lunch

106_fig4Students attending schools where more than 50 percent of the students were eligible for free or reduced price lunch (a proxy for community poverty) are more likely to report missing three or more days of school than are students attending schools with a 10 percent or lower eligibility rate. In 2013, 23 percent of eighth-graders and 21 percent of fourth-graders at schools with a greater than 75 percent eligibility rate reported missing three or more days of school in the past month. This compares with 15 percent of fourth-graders and 14 percent of eighth-graders in schools where 10 percent or fewer students were eligible. (Figure 4)

In addition to school-level differences, children who were eligible for free or reduced price lunch were more likely to miss more than three days of school in the previous month. In 2013, 23 percent of fourth-graders and eighth-graders who were eligible for free or reduced price lunch were chronically absent, compared with 18 percent of fourth-graders and 16 percent of eighth-graders who were not eligible. (Appendix 1, Appendix 2)

Differences by School Location

In 2013, students attending schools in cities or towns were more likely to be absent three or more times a month than were students attending schools in suburban or rural areas. Among eighth-graders, 20 percent of those whose school was in a city and 21 percent of those whose school was in a town were absent for three or more days in the past month, compared to 18 percent in the suburbs and 19 percent in rural areas. (Appendix 2)

State and Local Estimates

Estimates of absenteeism for states and major metropolitan areas are available from the NAEP Data Explorer, 1992-2013 Reading Assessments.

To access the data, click on “Main NDE,” then select fourth-grade or eighth-grade reading, the level (national, state, city, regional), and in the “select variables” tab, click on “student factors” and then “academic record and school experience.”

International Estimates

International estimates are available from the Trends in International Math and Science Study publication, How Serious are School Attendance Problems? School Contexts for Learning and Instruction. (See Exhibit 8.6)

National Goals

The No Child Left Behind Act, signed into law in January 2002, provides increased accountability for states, school districts, and schools, as well as more flexibility for states and local agencies in how they use federal education dollars. The Adequate Yearly Progress measures hold elementary and middle schools accountable for student absenteeism.

More information is available from the Department of Education.

What Works to Make Progress on This Indicator

For examples of promising approaches that have been implemented in schools communities, as well as at the policy level, see Attendance Works.

Also, see Child Trends' LINKS database ("Lifecourse Interventions to Nurture Kids Successfully"), for reviews of many rigorously evaluated programs, including the following which have been shown to be effective at decreasing absenteeism:

Related Indicators

Definition

From 1994 to 2000, students responded to the question, "How many days of school did you miss last month?" After 2001, students responded to, "How many days were you absent from school in the last month?" Accommodations for students with disabilities were not permitted in 1994.[9]

Data Sources

Data for 1994-2005: U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics. (2006) Student Absenteeism. The Condition of Education 2006. (24-2006). Table 24-2. http://nces.ed.gov/pubs2006/2006071.pdf

Data from 2007-2013: U.S. Department of Education, Institute of Education Sciences, National Center for Education Statistics. National Assessment of Educational Progress Reading Assessments (NAEP), 2013, 2011, 2009, and 2007 Reading Assessments. Accessed through the NAEP Data Explorer, at http://nces.ed.gov/nationsreportcard/naepdata/

Raw Data Source

U.S. Department of Education, Institute of Education Sciences, National Center for Education Statistics. National Assessment of Educational Progress Reading Assessments (NAEP), 1994, 1998, 2002, 2003,2005, 2007, 2009, 2011, and 2013 Reading Assessments.

 

Appendix 1 - Percentage of Fourth-Graders Who Reported Missing 3 or More Days of School in the Previous Month: Selected Years, 1994-2013

1994 1998 2002 2003 2005 2007 2009 2011 2013
Total 18 17 18 22 19 19 18 19 19
Gender
Male 18 16 17 21 18 19 18 19 19
Female 18 18 18 22 20 20 19 20 20
Race/Hispanic Origin1
Non-Hispanic White 17 16 17 22 18 19 17 19 19
Non-Hispanic Black 21 18 20 24 21 23 21 22 21
Hispanic 23 20 19 22 21 21 20 21 21
Asian/Pacific Islander 12 13 13 13 14 11 13 14
American Indian 24 28 25 29 26 29 28
English Language Learner2
Yes - 23 20 20 21 21 18 20 20
No - 17 18 22 19 19 18 19 19
Classified as having a disability
Yes - 26 23 27 24 24 24 26 26
No - 16 17 21 19 19 17 19 19
Language other than English spoken in home
Yes 19 18 19 22 20 20 18 19 19
No 18 16 17 22 18 19 17 20 20
1994 1998 2002 2003 2005 2007 2009 2011 2013
Student Eligibility for free or reduced-price lunch3
Eligible - 21 21 25 23 24 21 22 23
Not eligible - 14 16 20 17 17 15 16 18
School Location
Central City 20 17 18 22 20 - - - -
Urban fringe/large town 17 16 17 20 18 - - - -
Rural/Small Town 17 18 18 23 20 - - - -
City - - - - - 21 19 21 20
Suburb - - - - - 18 17 18 18
Town - - - - - 21 19 21 22
Rural - - - - - 19 18 19 19
Percent of students in school eligible for free or reduced-price lunch
10 or less - 14 15 18 16 16 14 15 15
11 to 25 - 16 16 20 18 17 16 17 16
26-50 - 16 18 23 19 19 17 19 19
51-75 - 19 19 24 21 22 20 21 20
More than 75 - 19 21 23 22 23 21 22 21
- Data not available.

‡ Reporting standards not met (too few cases).

NOTE: From 1994 to 2000, students responded to the question “How many days of school did you miss last month?” After 2001, students were asked “How many days were you absent from school in the last month?” Accommodations were not permitted for the 1994 assessment, but they were permitted for all other assessment years reported here.

1Black includes African American, Hispanic includes Latino, Asian/Pacific Islander includes Native Hawaiian, and American Indian includes Alaska Native.

2In testing years previous to 2005, English language learners (ELL) were identified as limited English proficient (LEP).

3This information was not available for a small percentage of students (2 percent of the total population in 2005).

Sources: Data for 1994-2005: Student Absenteeism. The Condition of Education 2006. U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics. http://nces.ed.gov/programs/coe/2006/section3/indicator24.asp#info Data from 2007-2011: U.S. Department of Education, Institute of Education Sciences, National Center for Education Statistics. National Assessment of Educational Progress Reading Assessments (NAEP), 2013, 2011, 2009, and 2007 Reading Assessments. Accessed through the NAEP Data Explorer, at http://nces.ed.gov/nationsreportcard/naepdata/

 

Appendix 2 - Percentage of Eighth-Graders Who Reported Missing 3 or More Days of School in the Previous Month: Selected Years, 1994-2013

1994 1998 2002 2003 2005 2007 2009 2011 2013
Total 22 22 20 22 20 20 20 19 19
Gender
Male 22 21 19 21 20 19 19 18 18
Female 22 22 20 22 21 21 20 20 20
Race/Hispanic Origin1
Non-Hispanic White 20 21 19 21 19 19 19 18 19
Non-Hispanic Black 27 22 22 24 24 24 23 23 21
Hispanic 27 24 22 23 23 23 21 21 20
Asian/Pacific Islander 21 15 12 11 12 12 10 11 10
American Indian 32 32 29 31 28 31 27
English Language Learner2
Yes - 26 23 23 23 22 22 23 24
No - 22 20 22 20 20 20 19 19
Classified as having a disability
Yes - 31 28 30 29 30 27 26 27
No - 21 19 21 20 19 19 18 18
Language other than English spoken in home
Yes 24 22 21 22 21 21 20 20 19
No 21 22 19 21 20 20 19 19 19
1994 1998 2002 2003 2005 2007 2009 2011 2013
Student Eligibility for free or reduced-price lunch3
Eligible - 26 24 26 25 26 24 23 23
Not eligible - 20 18 19 18 17 16 16 16
School Location
Central City 24 22 21 23 22 - - - -
Urban fringe/large town 21 21 20 20 20 - - - -
Rural/Small Town 20 23 19 22 19 - - - -
City - - - - - 21 21 21 20
Suburb - - - - - 19 19 18 18
Town - - - - - 22 20 20 21
Rural - - - - - 19 18 19 19
Percent of students in school eligible for free or reduced-price lunch
10 or less - 18 16 18 17 15 15 15 14
11 to 25 - 20 19 20 18 19 16 16 17
26-50 - 22 20 23 21 20 20 19 18
51-75 - 27 22 24 23 20 23 21 20
More than 75 - 25 25 26 25 25 24 23 23
- Data not available.

‡ Reporting standards not met (too few cases).

NOTE: From 1994 to 2000, students responded to the question “How many days of school did you miss last month?” After 2001, students were asked “How many days were you absent from school in the last month?” Accommodations were not permitted for the 1994 assessment, but they were permitted for all other assessment years reported here.

1Black includes African American, Hispanic includes Latino, Asian/Pacific Islander includes Native Hawaiian, and American Indian includes Alaska Native.

2In testing years previous to 2005, English language learners (ELL) were identified as limited English proficient (LEP).

3This information was not available for a small percentage of students (2 percent of the total population in 2005).

Sources: Data for 1994-2005: Student Absenteeism. The Condition of Education 2006. U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics. http://nces.ed.gov/programs/coe/2006/section3/indicator24.asp#info Data from 2007-2011: U.S. Department of Education, Institute of Education Sciences, National Center for Education Statistics. National Assessment of Educational Progress Reading Assessments (NAEP), 2013, 2011, 2009, and 2007 Reading Assessments. Accessed through the NAEP Data Explorer, at http://nces.ed.gov/nationsreportcard/naepdata/

Endnotes


[1]Epstein, J. L., & Sheldon, S. B. (2002). Present and accounted for: Improving student attendance through family and community involvement. Journal of Educational Research, 95(5), 308-318.

[2]Ready, D. D. (2010). Socioeconomic disadvantage, school attendance, and early cognitive development: The differential effects of school exposure. Sociology of Education, 83(4), 271-286.

[3]Epstein, J. L., & Sheldon, S. B. (2002). Op. cit.

[4]McCluskey, C. P., Bynum, T. S., & Patchin, J. W. (2004). Reducing chronic absenteeism: An assessment of an early truancy initiative. Crime and Delinquency, 50(2), 214-234.

[5]Baker, M. L., Sigmon, J. N., & Nugent, M. E. (2001). Truancy reduction: Keeping students in school [Electronic Version]. Juvenile Justice Bulletin.Available athttp://www.ncjrs.gov/pdffiles1/ojjdp/188947.pdf

[6]Bruner, C., Discher, A., & Chang, H. (2011). Chronic elementary absenteeism: A problem hidden in plain sight. A Research Brief from Attendance Works and Child and Family Policy Center. Retrieved from http://www.edweek.org/media/chronicabsence-15chang.pdf

[7]Teasley, M. L. (2004). Absenteeism and truancy: Risk, protection, and best practice implications for school social workers. Children and Schools, 26(2), 117-128.

[8]Hispanics may be any race. Estimates for whites, blacks, Asian/Pacific Islanders, and American Indians in this report do not include Hispanics.

[9]When accommodations are permitted, more students with disabilities and English language learners are able to take the assessments. For more information, seehttp://nces.ed.gov/nationsreportcard/about/inclusion.asp

 

Suggested Citation:

Child Trends Databank. (2014). Student Absenteeism. Available at: http://www.childtrends.org/?indicators=student-absenteeism

 

Last updated: July 2014