Key facts about student absenteeism

  • In 2017, the percentages of fourth- and eighth-grade students who reported missing three or more days of school in the previous month both reached record highs, with rates of 24 percent and 22 percent, respectively.
  • From 2002 to 2017, American Indian students in both fourth and eighth grades were most likely to report missing three or more days of school in the previous month (32 and 33 percent, respectively), compared to their counterparts in other racial/ethnic groups.
  • In 2017, fourth- and eighth-grade students classified as having a disability were more likely than students without a disability to have missed three or more school days within the past month.

Trends in student absenteeism

From 1994 to 2017, the percentage of eighth-grade students who reported that they were absent from school for three or more days in the last month was relatively stable, in the range of 19 percent to 22 percent. However, among fourth-grade students, this percentage increased from 18 percent in 1994 to 24 percent in 2017, with the single biggest rise (of 5 percent) observed in 2017 (19 percent in 2015 versus 24 percent in 2017). For the first time since 1994, a higher proportion of fourth graders than eighth graders reported absenteeism in 2017. In this year, these percentages for students in both grades reached historic highs (Figure 1).

The 2017 increase in the percentage of students reporting missing three or more days of school applied to fourth- and eighth-grade students, and to most subgroups; an exception was eighth graders attending schools in which 26 to 50 percent of students are eligible for free or reduced-price lunch, with absenteeism dropping slightly from 2015 to 2017 (from 18 to 17 percent; Appendices 1 & 2).

At eighth grade, the percentage of black, non-Hispanic and Hispanic students who reported missing three or more days of school decreased from 1994 to 2015 (from 27 percent for each group in 1994 to 23 and 20 percent, respectively, in 2015). In 2017, however, these shares increased to 24 percent for black, non-Hispanic students, and 23 percent for Hispanic students (Appendix 2). Among fourth-grade students, absenteeism remained relatively stable between 1994 and 2015. However, from 2015 to 2017, absenteeism increased among black, non-Hispanic and Hispanic fourth graders, rising from 23 to 29 percent, and from 21 to 26 percent, respectively (Appendix 1).

Differences by Race/ Hispanic Origin*

In 2015, both fourth- and eighth-grade American Indian students were more likely than black, Hispanic, and white students to report missing three or more days of school in the last month (28 versus 23, 21, and 18 percent, respectively, in fourth grade; and 29 versus 23, 21, and 18 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 11 percent in eighth grade).

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

Differences by disability status

Students classified as having a disability were more likely than students without a disability to have missed three or more school days within the past month. In 2017, 34 percent of fourth graders and 29 percent of eighth graders with a disability reported missing three or more school days, compared to 23 percent of fourth graders and 20 percent of eighth graders 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 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 students attending schools with an eligibility rate of 10 percent or lower. In 2017, 29 percent of fourth graders and 24 percent of eighth 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 to 18 percent of fourth graders, and 15 percent of eighth graders at schools where 10 percent or less of the students were eligible (Figure 4).

In addition to school-level differences, children who were themselves eligible for free or reduced-price lunch were more likely to miss more than three days of school in the previous month. In 2017, 28 percent of fourth graders and 25 percent of eighth graders who were eligible for free or reduced-price lunch were chronically absent, compared to 20 percent of fourth graders and 19 percent of eighth graders who were not eligible (Appendix 1, Appendix 2).

Differences by school location

Since 2007, there have been slight differences in percentages of students missing three or more days of school by school location (city and town versus suburb and rural). Among eighth graders, 22 percent of those attending city schools, and 24 percent whose schools were in towns, were absent for three or more days in the past month, compared to 20 percent in suburban schools, and 23 percent in rural schools (Appendix 2).

Other estimates

State and local estimates

Estimates of absenteeism for states and major metropolitan areas are available from the NAEP Data Explorer, 1992-2015 Reading Assessments, at http://nces.ed.gov/nationsreportcard/nde/

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:

http://timss.bc.edu/PDF/t03_download/T03_M_Chap8.pdf (See Exhibit 8.6)

Data & appendices

Data source

  • Data from 2003-2017: U.S. Department of Education, Institute of Education Sciences, National Center for Education Statistics. National Assessment of Educational Progress Reading Assessments (NAEP), Mathematics Assessments.  Accessed through the NAEP Data Explorer, at http://nces.ed.gov/nationsreportcard/naepdata/
  • Data for 1994-2002: 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/programs/coe/2006/section3/indicator24.asp#inf

Raw data source

U.S. Department of Education, Institute of Education Sciences, National Center for Education Statistics. National Assessment of Educational Progress Mathematics Assessments (NAEP), 1994, 1998, 2002, 2003, 2005, 2007, 2009, 2011, 2013, 2015, and 2017 Reading and Mathematics Assessments.

Appendices

Appendix 1.  Percentage of 4th-Grade Students Who Reported Missing 3 or More Days of School in the Previous Month, 1994-2017

Appendix 2.  Percentage of 8th-Grade Students Who Reported Missing 3 or More Days of School in the Previous Month, 1994-2017

Background

Definition

From 1994 to 2000, students in public and private schools 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.*

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

Suggested citation:

Child Trends Databank. (2019). Student Absenteeism. Available at https://www.childtrends.org/?indicators=student-absenteeism.