Absenteeism at fourth grade remained stable between 1994 and 2011, hovering around 19 percent. Eighth-grade absenteeism was at slightly higher rates during this period--around 20 percent in most years.
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., Beginning in kindergarten, students who attend school regularly score higher on tests than their peers who are frequently absent.
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.,
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.
From 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 2011). However, among eighth-grade students this percentage declined slightly, from 22 percent in 1994 to 20 percent in 2011. (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 2011 (from 27 percent for each group in 1994, to 22 and 21 percent, respectively, in 2011). Attendance among fourth-grade students in these groups remained stable from 1994 to 2011. (Appendix 1)
Differences by Race/ Hispanic Origin
In 2011, 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 (29 versus 22, 21, and 19 percent, respectively, in fourth grade; and 31, 22, 21, and 17 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 (13 percent in fourth grade, and 11 percent in eighth grade). (Figure 2)
Differences by Disability Status
Students 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 2011, 26 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, 24 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
Students 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 2011, 23 percent of eighth-graders and 22 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 at each grade level 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 2011, 22 percent of fourth-graders and 23 percent of eighth-graders who were eligible for free or reduced price lunch were chronically absent, compared with 16 percent, at each grade level, of students who were not eligible. (Appendix 1)
Differences by School Location
In 2011, 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, 21 percent of those whose school was in a city and 20 percent of those whose school was in a town were absent for three or more days in the past month, compared to 17 percent in the suburbs and 18 percent in rural areas. (Appendix 1)
State and Local Estimates
Estimates of absenteeism for states and major metropolitan areas are available from the NAEP Data Explorer, 1992-2011 Reading Assessments
To access the data, click on "Main NDE," then select fourth-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 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)
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:
- Behavior Treatment Program for Children with Asthma
- Big Brothers Big Sisters (BBBS)
- Career Academies
- Case-Management Program for Academic Enhancement
- Developmental Group Therapy
- Leeds Truancy Project
- Multisystemic Therapy (MST)
- Ohio Learning, Earning, And Parenting Program (LEAP)
- Positive Action Program
- Preventing Adolescent Problems
- School Attendance Demonstration Project
- School to Jobs
- Woodrock Youth Development Project (WYDP)
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.
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 2007-2011: U.S. Department of Education, Institute of Education Sciences, National Center for Education Statistics. National Assessment of Educational Progress Reading Assessments (NAEP), 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, and 2011 Reading Assessments.
Appendix 1 - Percentage of Students Who Reported Missing 3 or More Days of School in the Previous Month, 1994-2011
|Fourth Grade||Eighth Grade|
|English Language Learner2|
|Classified as having a disability|
|Fourth Grade||Eighth Grade|
|Language other than English spoken in home|
|Student Eligibility for free or reduced-price lunch3|
|Urban fringe/large town||17||16||17||20||18||--||--||--||21||21||20||20||20||--||--||--|
|Fourth Grade||Eighth Grade|
|Percent of students in school eligible for free or reduced-price lunch|
|10 or less||--||14||15||18||16||16||14||15||--||18||16||18||17||15||15||15|
|11 to 25||--||16||16||20||18||17||16||17||--||20||19||20||18||19||16||15|
|More than 75||--||19||21||23||22||23||21||22||--||25||25||26||25||25||24||23|
|- Data not available.
‡ Reporting standards not met (too few cases).
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).
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.
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), 2011, 2009, and 2007 Reading Assessments. Accessed through the NAEP Data Explorer, at http://nces.ed.gov/nationsreportcard/naepdata/
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.
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.
Epstein, J. L., & Sheldon, S. B. (2002). Op. cit.
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.
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
Teasley, M. L. (2004). Absenteeism and truancy: Risk, protection, and best practice implications for school social workers. Children and Schools, 26(2), 117-128.
Hispanics may be any race.
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
Child Trends Databank. (2012). Student Absenteeism. Available at: http://www.childtrends.org/?indicators=student-absenteeism
Last updated: October 2012