Chronic absenteeism in kindergarten, and even pre-K, can predict lower test scores, repeated patterns of poor attendance and retention in later grades, especially if the problem persists for more than a year. Students from low-income communities are especially challenged by chronic absence when their families have fewer resources to make up for lost learning time.

Further Analysis of the Data Revealed:

  • 89 percent of the nation’s school districts report some level of chronic absence. This ranges from two chronically absent students in one district to 72,376 in another.*

  • Half the chronically absent students, however, are found in just 4 percent of the nation’s school districts and 12 percent of its schools. These 654 districts are spread across 47 states and the District of Columbia.

  • This trend of large numbers of chronically absent students affecting a handful of districts also holds true for states. In fact, 10 percent of the chronically absent students nationwide can be found in just 30 districts in two states with very large student populations, California and Texas.

  • Some of the places with the largest numbers of chronically absent students are affluent, suburban districts known for academic achievement. For example, Montgomery County, Md., and Fairfax County, Va., two suburbs of Washington, D.C., each have more than 20,000 chronically absent students. While their rates are close to the national average, the large numbers reflect both the sheer size of the districts and their growing populations of low-income students.

  • Districts serving disadvantaged urban neighborhoods have both high rates and high numbers of chronically absent students. Cities such as Baltimore, Philadelphia, Milwaukee, Cleveland and Detroit report that more than a third of students are chronically absent. The concentration of intergenerational poverty in these communities of color and the web of systemic challenges families encounter – not enough affordable housing, poor access to health care, absence of well-resourced schools, too much exposure to violence and environmental pollutants – all complicate school attendance. Punitive school discipline practices such as overuse of suspension also can contribute to absenteeism as well as to community distrust of schools.

  • Many small, rural school districts have few students but extremely high rates of chronic absenteeism. Transportation and other challenges related to poverty can keep students from getting to school regularly in remote areas. For example, 31 percent of the 504 students in Arkansas’ Bradford School District missed three or more weeks of school. So did 31 percent of the 2,752 students in Alabama’s Colbert County School District. Washington state reports that 119 of its districts have rates of 30 percent or greater.

Our new toolkit, Relationships Matter, is designed to help school districts establish a success mentoring program focused on attendance in elementary grades. The toolkit builds upon the ideas and resources from a number of national partners, especially MENTOR: The National Mentoring Project, Everyone Graduates Center, the New York Department of Education, and the Center for Supportive Schools.

It also draws from the trailblazing work of a growing number of local efforts, including districts participating in the groundbreaking My Brother’s Keeper Success Mentors initiative, announced in 2016 by the White House and the US Department of Education (ED). To support these efforts, ED launched the National Student Attendance, Engagement, and Success Center (NSAEC) to provide technical assistance nationwide for strategies that prevent and address chronic absenteeism.

“For our social and economic strength, we must make sure that young people who need mentoring most are connected with those relationships,” says David Shapiro, CEO and President, MENTOR. “Chronic absenteeism offers a warning sign of disconnection and calls us to intervene with mentoring by consistent adults who can partner with school and home to provide the support, guidance, and encouragement proven to drive greater attendance. We are proud to partner with Attendance Works on this toolkit.”

Relationship Matter’s tools and resources can encourage good attendance in elementary grades by supporting your district’s efforts to:

  • Launch an elementary success mentor strategy using seven key steps
  • Define and develop the role of a success mentor, with seven key elements drawn from the experience of the New York City Department of Education
  • Invest time in the recruitment, screening, matching, training and support for the adults who will serve as success mentors
  • Support the development of a principal led team that oversees attendance, the success mentor strategy and a school-wide effort for family engagement and attendance messaging, and
  • Gain support for the success mentor strategy that can ensure this program can go to scale and be sustained over time.

Find the Toolkit

Download and print the Executive Summary