Root Causes

Data on chronic absence can help identify which students, or groups of students, might be in need of additional support. Once you know which students are at risk due to poor attendance, take stock of what you know about the reasons they do or don’t attend school.

Reasons for absences typically fall into four broad categories: Barriers to attendance, aversion to school, disengagement from school and misconceptions about the impact of absences. See figure below.


For individual students, use our worksheet on Understanding the Root Causes of Student Absences to organize your thoughts and what your team has learned from regular interactions inside or outside the classroom about the student. Understanding the root causes as well as what motivates the student to attend can help determine the best course of action.

Root Causes Worksheet

The five minutes you and your team spend filling in the worksheet can help you think about what you know or might need to learn from a student or their family when developing an effective intervention plan.

In some communities certain reasons for absence affect a large number of students. For example, food insecurity often affects large numbers, not just individual students. The solutions in this case could include evidence-based interventions such as Breakfast in the Classroom. If you find there are a large number of chronically absent students, consider first applying the strategy to a manageable number. Then, you can use the experience to determine how to help more students.

Interventions to address each tier

Once you identify the most common reasons for absence, consider which intervention, supports or policy solutions you can offer. The Attendance Playbook: Smart Strategies for Reducing Chronic Absence in the Covid Era, was developed by FutureEd in partnership with Attendance Works. Find strategies to address chronic absence, divided into Tiers 1, 2 and 3.

Use the Guide to Using the Attendance Playbook to determine which interventions address the most common reasons for absence for your school’s students and their families.

When you see a group of students with a high level of chronic absence, the root cause may be a school policy or practice. In such cases, the solution is not an intervention but a change in policy or school practice. For example, if suspensions for minor infractions (i.e. not abiding by the dress code or cursing in the classroom) are causing a disproportionate number of students of color to miss school and disengage, then a policy solution might be needed. In this case, the school could establish clear criteria for suspension and offer professional development to teach staff about alternative approaches to behavior management.

Updated September 2022