May 17th, 2012

Missing Matters: New Study Estimates 5-7.5 Million Chronically Absent Students

An estimated 5 million to 7.5 million students miss nearly a month of school every year, a trend that goes largely unnoticed despite the devastating effects on student achievement, according to a new report  released today and featured in the New York Times.

“The Importance of Being in School,” compiled by Johns Hopkins University’s Everyone Graduates Center and the Get Schooled Foundation, offers the first national glimpse at the prevalence of chronic absenteeism in our schools.

Johns Hopkins researchers Robert Balfanz and his team studied trends in six states that have calculated their numbers: Georgia, Florida, Maryland, Nebraska, Oregon and Rhode Island.

Among the findings:

  • A projected 10 to 15 percent of students nationwide are chronically absent, generally defined as missing 10 percent of school days.
  • Chronic absenteeism affects students in urban, rural and suburban communities. In some urban districts, a third of the students are chronically absent, while poor rural areas are in the 25 percent range.
  • The rates are highest in kindergarten and in the high school years.
  • Children in poverty are more likely to be miss school regularly. In Maryland, more than 30 percent of poor children were chronically absent, compared to 12 percent of others.
  • Chronically absent students tend to be concentrated in a relatively small number of schools. In Florida, 52 percent of chronically absent students were in just 15 percent of schools.

This research reinforces what we’ve found about the prevalence and pernicious effects of absenteeism on school performance. It also underscores how little attention is paid to this critical early warning sign. We hope that the report and the policy recommendations it offers will encourage more states and school district to start monitoring chronic absence data so they can intervene and prevent students from missing so much school they fall behind academically.

Parents and students can track absences on this online calculator on the Get Schooled website. Get Schooled is a nonprofit that runs nationwide Attendance Challenges to improve school attendance and high school graduation rates. Get Schooled also links to several of our tools for parents, schools and cities.

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