Elementary School Absenteeism

These reports are organized chronologically.

September 2015

  • In School and On Track 2015:  Attorney General’s 2015 report on California’s elementary school truancy and absenteeism crisis, Office of Attorney General, California Department of Justice, September 2015.  In the 2015 report, we release new and updated data on the still alarming rates of elementary school truancy and chronic absence across the state. More than 1 in 5 elementary school students in California are truant based on data from the California Department of Education. Furthermore, we estimate that 8% of elementary school students in California are chronically absent.  That means over 230,000 of our youngest students are already at risk of falling behind in school. Our new data also show which of our students are missing the most school, with disproportionately high rates of absenteeism and suspensions for students of color, low-income, homeless, foster youth, and special education students.  However, we have begun to see a positive trend across California: increased attention and more concerted efforts to improve elementary school attendance. This report highlights some of the districts and counties engaged in this important work. These districts and counties serve as examples of progress in many locales across the state.

November 2014

  • Nauer, Kim et al, A Better Picture of Poverty: What Chronic Absenteeism and Risk Load Reveal About NYC’s Lowest-Income Elementary Schools, Center for New York City Affairs at the New School, November 2014. This report looks closely at New York City’s schools and documents the risk factors that plague struggling schools. Researchers found that more than 87,000 New York City children from kindergarten through third grade missed 10 percent or more of the school year in 2012-13. That number is down from 2008, when the New School released its first report on chronic absence. That report spurred then-Mayor Michael Bloomberg to launch an intensive pilot program in 100 schools to improve attendance. The rate of chronic absenteeism in elementary schools declined from 23 percent in 2009 to 19 percent 2013.  The report went beyond student data to identify 130 schools were more than a third of students were chronically absent for five straight years. These schools had a few things in common: Scores on standardized tests for reading and math were far below the city averages. And many of the students lived in deep poverty with high rates of homelessness, child abuse reports and male unemployment.

November 2014

  • Absenteeism and GPA:  Exploring the top indicators of career and college readiness, Attendance Institute and the University of Chicago Consortium on Chicago School Research (CCSR), November 18, 2014. Elaine Allensworth, PhD, and the Lewis-Sebring Director of CCSR shares highlights from three important reports:  1. Absenteeism from Preschool to High School, 2. Looking Forward to High School and College: Middle Grade Indicators of Readiness in Chicago Public Schools, and 3. Free to Fail or On Track to College.  CCSR discusses absenteeism at all grade levels as well as which school indicators connect to success in the middle grades, high school as well as career and college.

September 2014

  • In School and On Track 2014:  Attorney General’s 2014 report on California’s elementary school truancy and absenteeism crisis, Office of Attorney General, California Department of Justice, September 2014.  In School + On Track 2013 highlighted the unacceptable rates of elementary school truancy using attendance records from the 2011-2012 school year. This year’s report indicates that those rates were not isolated or unique — truancy rates are persistent in California. In the 2012-2013 school year, the school year immediately preceding last year’s report, 1 in 5 elementary school students were truant, or 744,085 students. This marks an increase of 1.2% from 2011-2012. Because California takes an entire year to release its official truancy figures, official truancy rates are only available for years that predate the 2013 report. This year, due to a partnership with Aeries Student Information System, we have access to new estimated rates of absenteeism for disadvantaged student populations from the 2013-2014 school year. According to estimates based on a sample of California school districts, over 250,000 elementary school students were chronically absent in 2013-2014 — defined as missing 10% or more of the school year, adding up to roughly 18 or more school days. Even more troubling, over 50,000 elementary students were chronically truant, and over 40,000 missed at least 36 days of school in one year. Absences are also highest in the earliest years of school most critical for developing foundational skills like reading. As was true in In School + On Track 2013, we can only estimate these more severe indicators of attendance problems because California does not collect information on students’ total absences, chronic absenteeism, or chronic truancy.

July 2014

  • Olson, Linda S.Why September Matters: Improving Student Attendance, Baltimore Education Research Consortium, July 2014. Absenteeism in the first month of school can predict poor attendance patterns throughout the year, providing an early warning sign for parents and educators to intervene and put students back on track, according to this brief which examines attendance in the Baltimore City Public Schools for pre-kindergarten through 12th grade students in September and throughout the rest of the 2012-13 school year. Olson found that: students who missed fewer than 2 days in September typically had good attendance rates for the entire year; half the students who missed 2-4 days in September went on to miss a month or more of school; and nearly 9 out of 10 students who missed more than 4 days in September were chronically absent that year.

June 2014

  • Goodman, Joshua, Flaking Out: Student Absences and Snow Days as Disruptions of Instructional Time, National Bureau of Economic Research, Working Paper No. 20221, June 2014.  This report examines the effects of moderate snow on poor student absences, which was twice as large as for non-poor students. It was also twice as large for black and Hispanic students as for white and Asian students. The author speculates that this may be caused by dependence on “forms of transportation more likely to fail during snowstorms, such as public transit or low quality cars” or to placing “less value on school attendance.” Extremely snowy days, days with 10 or more inches of snow, produce more school closures but no additional absences because students cannot be absent when a school is closed. Previous studies finding that closures had large achievement effects may have mistakenly attributed the effect of individual absences to school closures. The author concludes that teachers deal well with coordinated disruptions of instructional time but poorly with disruptions that affect different students at different times. The negative effect that absences have on achievement suggests that lengthening the school day or year will not necessarily have the desired effect of raising student performance, but that policies to improve attendance might help.

May 2014

  • Ehrlich Stacy B. et al. Preschool Attendance in Chicago Public Schools: Relationships with Learning Outcomes and Reasons for Absences, University of Chicago, Consortium on Chicago School Research, May 2014. This report highlights the critical importance of consistent preschool attendance. Students who attend preschool regularly are significantly more likely than chronically absent preschoolers to be ready for kindergarten and to attend school regularly in later grades, the report finds. The study, which follows 25,000 three- and four-year-olds served by Chicago Public Schools (CPS) school-based preschool programs, finds that chronic absenteeism is rampant among preschoolers in Chicago. In 2011-2012, almost half of 3-year-olds and more than one-third of 4-year-olds missed at least 10 percent of the school year.

February 2014

  • Attendance in the Early Grades: Why it Matters for Reading, Attendance Works and the Campaign for Grade-Level Reading, February 2014. This brief summarizes a growing body of research which documents how many youngsters are chronically absent, meaning they miss 10 percent or more of the school year due to excused or unexcused absences. The research also shows how these missed days, as early as preschool, translate into weaker reading skills and makes a clear case for engaging families to reduce chronic absenteeism.

December 2013

  • Gottfried, Michael, Retained Students and Classmates’ Absences in Urban Schools, American Educational Research Journal, December 2013, Vol. 50, No. 6, pp. 1392–1423. Research in grade retention has predominantly focused on the effect of this practice on the retained student. This study examines the effect of retained classmates on the outcomes of other students in the same classroom. Using a longitudinal data set of all elementary school students in a large urban school district, this study evaluates how the percentage of retained classmates affects other students’ absence patterns, both unexcused and excused. The results indicate that a greater percentage of retained classmates increases other students’ absences.

November 2013

October 2013

  • Lochmiller, Chad R., Court-Assisted Truancy Programs: A 2013 Survey of Indiana School Superintendents, prepared for the Indiana Department of Education by the Center for Evaluation and Education Policy (CEEP) at Indiana University, October 2013. School superintendents were surveyed to determine whether the state’s school corporations had established court-assisted truancy programs and, if they had, what support these programs provide. CEEP found court-assisted truancy programs operating in only a few school corporations across the state and are a relatively new phenomenon. These programs support students who have missed 10 or more days of school and connect them with the juvenile justice system and other social services in order to encourage regular school attendance.

October 2013

  • Lochmiller, Chad R., Improving Student Attendance in Indiana’s Schools: Synthesis of Existing Research Related to Student Absenteeism and Effective, Research-Based Interventions, prepared for the Indiana Department of Education by the Center for Evaluation and Education Policy (CEEP) at Indiana University, October 2013. Recent research completed by the Center for Evaluation and Education Policy at Indiana University indicate that chronically absent students in Indiana’s public schools perform lower on student learning assessments. Further, students who are routinely absent are also more likely to drop out of high school. During the 2013 legislative session, state lawmakers enacted new legislation that redefined chronic absenteeism and habitual truancy in Indiana, and also introduced new requirements for the schools. This review focuses on research related to predictors of student absenteeism and truancy, the effects of the student absenteeism and truancy, and research-based interventions that improve student attendance and reduce truancy as reported in the literature between 2000 and 2013. This report also proposes a model attendance plan that schools and school corporations in Indiana can adapt to comply with the new state requirements.

October 2013

  • Olson, Linda S., Faith Connolly, and Alok H. Kommajesula. Family League 2011-12 Out of School Time Programs in Baltimore City, Baltimore Education Research Consortium, Baltimore, MD, October 2013. This report examines the relationship between out-of-school time programs and school absence. Through the Family League’s education initiative, thousands of children in Baltimore have access to quality after school and summer learning opportunities. Among students who regularly attended OST programs, they had higher promotion rates than their peers, entered 6th and 9th grade with higher school attendance (important transition grades to middle and high school), and were significantly less likely to be chronically absent.

September 2013

  • In School and On Track:  Report on California’s Elementary School Truancy and Absenteeism Crisis. Office of Attorney General, California Department of Justice, 2013.  According to the California Department of Education, 691,470 California elementary school children, or 1 out of every 5 elementary school students, were reported to be truant in the 2011-2012 school year. Statewide, 38% of all truant students are elementary school children.  Given these disturbing statistics, Attorney General Kamala Harris commissioned a study to examine the scope, causes and effects of truancy and absenteeism in California. The study also focused on what law enforcement, parents, educators, non-profits, public agencies and concerned community members can and must do about this problem.

March 2013

  • West, Thomas C. Just the Right Mix: Identifying Potential Dropouts in Montgomery County Public Schools Using an Early Warning Indicators Approach. Office of Shared Accountability, Montgomery County Public Schools, MD, March 2013. Each school year, roughly a thousand students drop out of Montgomery County Public Schools (MCPS). However, unlike other large, urban school districts where students who drop out skip school and are suspended often (Balfanz & Byrnes, 2010), students who drop out of MCPS are present in school; they just are not doing well academically. These students are generally coded as dropping out of school due to: 1) a lack of personal motivation or interest to continue their education, or to 2) a lack of academic success including low grades and/or retention. These are both signs of a lack of student engagement (i.e., investment and motivation towards school). This study examines the early warning indicators (attendance, behavior and coursework patterns) for students in grades 1, 3, 6, and 9 who eventually drop out of school.

February 2013

  • Ginsburg, Alan, Time for Learning: States and Districts. An Exploratory Analysis of NAEP Data, prepared for the National Assessment Governing Board, February 2013.  This report is part of an ongoing project to use the data generated by the National Assessment of Educational Progress (dubbed the “Nation’s Report Card”) to provide more context for student performance.  Mr. Ginsburg’s analysis adds to growing evidence that student absenteeism can hamstring a district’s performance on the NAEP. In large urban districts, 8th-grade students who missed three or more days in the previous month of school had an average mathematics score of 260 on the 2011 NAEP, 21 points lower than those who missed no school. In some districts, the gap was even wider: 25 points in New York City, 24 in Chicago and the District of Columbia.

November 2012

  • Chronic Absence in the Sacramento Unified School District, University of California, Davis, Center for Regional Change, 2012.  The UC Davis Center for Regional change conducted an assessment of chronic absence in the Sacramento Unified School District, describing prevalence, costs, characteristics of chronically absent students, barriers to attendance, and building partnerships that eliminate barriers to attendance.

October 2012

  • Fantuzzo, John et al, Academic achievement of African American boys: A city-wide, community-based investigation of risk and resilience, Journal of School Psychology, Volume 50, Issue 5, October 2012, pages 559–579. This study of about 8,900 Philadelphia children went beyond a simple measure of poverty to explore six risk factors that influence the achievement gap between African American and White boys and demonstrated that students facing more risk factors suffer academically. The study also showed that African American boys with higher levels of academic engagement—as measured by attendance and task engagement—performed significantly better on both reading and mathematics tests after accounting for the effects of early risk experiences. Evaluating children from birth through third grade, the study looked at risk factors such as poor prenatal care and low education levels for the children’s mothers, premature births, lead exposure, homelessness and maltreatment. The study found a “risk gap”:  African American boys from low-income families were more likely to face one or more of these risk factors than White boys from similar families. The African American boys were also more likely to have poor attendance and less likely to engage in school. The study suggests that improving attendance and engagement can reduce the effects of the risk factors and help close the achievement gap.

July 2012

  • Lotyczewski, Bohdan S. and Guillermo Montes, United Way After-School Program Evaluation, Children’s Institute, July 2012. In 2012, United Way of Rochester, New York partnered with the Children’s Institute and the Rochester City School District to evaluate the effectiveness of its after-school programs. The results show that kids in United Way’s after-school programs attend 6,100 more days of school than their peers and their GPAs were .87 points higher than their classmates. Results from the first year evaluation showed that kids in after-school had a GPA increase of .25 points. Read the Impact Briefing released in December 2013.

November 2011

  • Schoeneberger, Jason A., Longitudinal Attendance Patterns: Developing High School Dropouts, The Clearing House: A Journal of Educational Strategies, Issues and Ideas, 85:1, 7-14. In this study, the researcher used longitudinal data on student attendance patterns from a large urban school district to model trajectories over time and categorize students into groups based on their attendance patterns from 1st through 8th grades. Using this technique, the study identified four categories of students:  Constant Attendees who rarely missed more than 10% of school days; Developing Truants who showed increasing prevalence of absenteeism in the late elementary and middle school grades; Early Truants who were more likely to be chronically absent in the early elementary grades but showed improved attendance with time; and Chronic Truants, who exhibited the highest prevalence of missing school across all grades. Modeling each group’s trajectory, the study found that these longitudinal categories are predictive of high school dropout. Furthermore, while Chronic Truants have a 21% likelihood of dropping out, the likelihood for Developing Truants is even higher at 25%, suggesting that longitudinal attendance patterns should be used as a warning system to identify students at-risk of disengaging from school.

September 2011

  • Kerr, Jill et al., Does Contact by a Family Nurse Practitioner Decrease Early School Absence?, The Journal of School Nursing, September 14, 2011. Chronic early school absence is associated with school failure. The presence of school nurses may lead to fewer absences, and nurse practitioners in school-based health centers can facilitate a healthier population resulting in improved attendance. This article describes a nursing intervention to decrease early school absence in two elementary schools and a Head Start program.

May 2011

  • Attendance in Early Elementary Grades:  Associations with Student Characteristics, School Readiness and Third Grade Outcomes, Applied Survey Research, May 2011.  A study commissioned by Attendance Works suggests that attendance in the early grades is critical to sustaining the school readiness skills that preschool or Head Start programs can help children to develop. This study conducted by Applied Survey Research examined the progress of 640 young California children in San Mateo and Santa Clara counties where research has consistently shown a strong correlation between a high score on their local school readiness assessment measure and third grade reading proficiency.  Students who arrived at school academically ready to learn—but then missed 10 percent of  their kindergarten and first grade years—scored , on average, 60 points below similar students with good attendance on third-grade reading tests. In math, the gap was nearly 100 points.

May 2011

  • Musser, Martha. Taking Attendance Seriously: How School Absences Undermine Student and School Performance in New York City. The Campaign for Fiscal Equity, May 2011.  The Campaign for Fiscal Equity works to ensure New York City students’ right to a sound, basic education.  In this study, they found that absenteeism presents a large barrier to securing that education. The CFE analyzed attendance records, state assessment scores, and demographic factors for 64,062 fourth-graders attending 705 New York City public schools in the 2007-2008 school year. The analysis showed that student attendance is a statistically significant predictor of student performance. What’s more, students are affected by the attendance rates of their schools, so that even students with high attendance rates suffer academically from being in an environment where absenteeism is a problem. 

February 2011

  • Gottfried, Michael, The Detrimental Effect of Missing School: Evidence from Urban Siblings, American Journal of Education, v. 117, no. 2, Feb. 2011, p. 147-182. There is evidence suggesting that missing school negatively relates to academic achievement. However, it is a difficult task to derive unbiased empirical estimates of absences in their influence on performance. One particular challenge arises from the unobserved heterogeneity in the family environment, which may relate to both absence behavior and school performance. This article provides the first analysis aimed at reducing the family-specific omitted variable bias pertaining to measures of absences in their influence on standardized testing achievement. It does so by employing a model of family fixed effects on a longitudinal sample of siblings within the same household in a large urban school district over six years of observations. The results indicate a stronger, statistically significant negative relationship between absences and achievement than what would have been suggested otherwise.

October 2010

  • Ready, Douglas D., Socioeconomic Disadvantage, School Attendance, and Early Cognitive Development: The Differential Effects of School Exposure, Sociology of Education, October 2010. Over the past several decades, research has documented strong relationships between social class and children’s cognitive abilities. These initial cognitive differences, which are substantial at school entry, increase as children progress through school. Despite the robust findings associated with this research, authors have generally neglected the extent to which school absenteeism exacerbates social class differences in academic development among young children. Using growth-curve analyses within a three-level hierarchical linear modeling framework, this study employs data from the Early Childhood Longitudinal Study (ECLS-K) to examine the links between children’s social class, school absences, and academic growth during kindergarten and first grade. Results suggest that the effects of schooling on cognitive development are stronger for lower socioeconomic status (SES) children and that the findings associated with theories of summer learning loss are applicable to literacy development during early elementary school. Indeed, although they continue to achieve at lower absolute levels, socioeconomically disadvantaged children who have good attendance rates gain more literacy skills than their higher SES peers during kindergarten and first grade.

June 2010

  • Gottfried, Michael A., Evaluating the Relationship Between Student Attendance and Achievement in Urban Elementary and Middle Schools: An Instrumental Variables Approach, American Educational Research Journal, June 2010, Vol. 47, No. 2, pp. 434-465. This study evaluates the connection between student attendance and positive learning outcomes. The researcher uses a comprehensive data set of elementary and middle schools in the Philadelphia school district to explore the causal impact of attendance on multiple measures of achievement, including grade-point average and standardized test scores. He controlled for student and neighborhood characteristics, as well as school, grade and other elements. The study showed a direct and consistent causal relationship between good attendance and good academic school outcomes in the K-5 and 6-8 schools.

March 2010

  • Basch, Charles. Healthier Students Are Better Learners: A Missing Link in Efforts to Close the Achievement Gap, March 9, 2010. Equity in Education Forum Series, Spring 2010, Teachers College, Columbia University.  This report concludes that “six educationally relevant disparities”—vision problems, asthma, teen pregnancy, aggression and violence, physical inactivity, poor nutrition, and concentration problems—have negative academic outcomes for minority students in urban settings. The piece hits also on data about the relationship between health and school attendance: “Compared with children without the condition, some studies have also found, children with asthma tend to have more problems with concentration and memory, to have their sleep disrupted, and to miss more days of school. One 2003 estimate, in fact, blamed the disorder for 12.8 million school absences across the country that year.”

March 2010

  • Durham, Rachel and Plank, Stephen B., Maintaining High Achievement in Baltimore: An Overview of the Elementary School Trajectories of Four Recent City Schools First Grade Cohorts, Baltimore Educational Research Consortium, March 2010.The results from this study of four elementary schools show increased academic achievement and reduced chronic absence. It suggests that many recent reform efforts–among them improved developmental conditions from birth to age five, universal prekindergarten, reduced class sizes in the early grades, and standardized curricula–are succeeding in keeping Baltimore students on track for success in the middle grades and beyond. Continuing research should attempt to disentangle these various inputs to education, and also investigate the relative returns to investment when resources are directed to the programs.

October 2008

  • Nauer, Kim, Andrew White and Rajeev Yerneni., Strengthening Schools by Strengthening Families: Community Strategies to Reverse Chronic Absenteeism in the Early Grades and Improve Supports for Children and Families. Center for New York City Affairs at the New School,  October 2008.  The Center for New York City Affairs at The New School conducted its own an analysis of chronic absence in New York City public schools. It found that more than 90,000 children in grades K through 5 (more than 20 percent of enrollment) missed at least one month of school. In high poverty neighborhoods, the number was far higher, approaching one-third of primary grade students. The implication for these students’ long-term success is enormous, but this is only part of the story. This report also describes how chronic absenteeism at an early age can result from problems at home, and how strong partnerships between public schools, community organizations and other institutions can make a difference.

September 2008

  • Chang, Hedy & Romero, Mariajose, Present, Engaged & Accounted For: The Critical Importance of Addressing Chronic Absence in the Early Grades, National Center for Children in Poverty: NY: NY, September 2008. This report documents the consequences, prevalence, potential causes and possible solutions to children missing extended periods of school in grades K-3rd. Although students must be present and engaged to learn, thousands of this country’s youngest students are academically at-risk because of extended absences when they first embark upon their school careers. Nationally, an estimated one in 10 kindergarten and first grade students are chronically absent (i.e. miss nearly a month or more of school over the course of a year). Absenteeism in the early grades can reach even higher levels in particular schools and districts. The good news is that chronic early absence can be significantly reduced when schools, communities and families join together to monitor and promote attendance, as well as to identify and address the factors that prevent young students from attending school every day.

Spring 2008

October 2007

  • Romero, Mariajose and Young-Sun Lee, A National Portrait of Chronic Absenteeism in the Early Grades, National Center for Children in Poverty, Columbia University. October 2007. This brief reveals a significant level of absenteeism in the early school years, especially among low-income children, and confirms its detrimental effects on school success by examining children from across various incomes and race/ethnicity groups in a nationally representative sample of children entering kindergarten. Early absenteeism negatively impacted academic achievement in reading, math, and general knowledge in the early school years.  And greater absenteeism in kindergarten was associated with lower achievement at the end of first grade. On average, children missing 10% or more of the school year scored five points less than did those who were absent up to 3% of the school year in kindergarten.

January 2007

  • Sheldon, Steven B., Improving Student Attendance with School, Family and Community Partnerships, Journal of Educational Research, January 2007.  Researchers and policy makers have questioned the efficacy of family-involvement interventions. They believe that more studies are needed to compare outcomes of students whose families received a partnership intervention with those who did not. The author used data from the state of Ohio to compare student attendance in elementary schools that developed school-wide programs of school, family, and community partnerships with the attendance of students in schools that did not develop the programs. Analyses showed that in schools working to implement school, family, and community partnerships, student attendance improved an average of .5%, whereas in comparison schools, rates of student attendance declined slightly from one year to the next. Further analysis suggested that school outreach to families was the driving mechanism that caused this effect.

May/June 2002

  • Epstein, J. L. & Sheldon, S. B.  Present and Accounted for: Improving Student Attendance Through Family and Community Involvement. Journal of Educational Research, 95, 308-318, May/June 2002. This study discusses the results of an analysis of longitudinal data collected on schools’ rates of daily student attendance and chronic absenteeism and on specific partnership practices that were implemented to help increase or sustain student attendance. Results indicate that several family–school–community partnership practices predict an increase in daily attendance, a decrease in chronic absenteeism, or both. The data suggest that schools may be able to increase student attendance in elementary school by implementing specific family and community involvement activities.