Chronic Absenteeism - Why School Attendance is so Important

Chronic absenteeism is pervasive: as many as one in six students in the United States miss enough school to be considered chronically absent, according to the US Department of Education. The negative effects of absenteeism on a student’s education can be profound, and they often carry into adulthood.

The harmful impact of chronic absenteeism threatens all students, but the risks are not borne equally. Students of color, students who live in poverty, and students with chronic health conditions or disabilities all experience disproportionately high absence rates.

Examining the causes of absenteeism and the effects it has on school performance, and ultimately life outcomes, provides a deeper understanding of why school attendance is so important.

 Why is school attendance important?

School attendance is a powerful predictor of student outcomes. In fact, irregular attendance can be a better predictor of whether students will drop out of school before graduation than test scores, according to the US Department of Education.

The correlation between attendance and dropout rates has important ramifications that go beyond the classroom. Compared to their peers who graduate, students who fail to complete their high school education are more likely to live in poverty, suffer poor health, and become involved in the criminal justice system.

What is "Chronic Absenteeism?"

Chronic absenteeism is widely defined as missing 10 percent or more of the number of school days a student is enrolled. If the school year is 180 days (such as in Firebaugh), then 18 missed school days, excused or unexcused, would be considered chronically absent. That's slightly less than 2 absences per month! Schools generally recognize three categories of absences:

  • Excused absences are those with a valid reason and that have been communicated to the school by a parent. Student illness or other medical conditions are the most common types of excused absence; other reasons include religious observances, medical appointments, and family emergencies.
  • Unexcused absences, or truancy, occur when students miss school without a valid reason. Examples include deliberately skipping school as well as missing school for reasons deemed invalid by the school, such as oversleeping or missing the bus.
  • Disciplinary absences are a result of school suspension (FLDUSD makes every effort to use Restorative Practices or other learning opportunities to correct behaviors rather than the exclusionary practice of out-of-school suspension).

In the past, a lot of emphasis was put on unexcused absences (truancies), but a lot of longitudinal research has shown that any absence, excused or unexcused, has harmful effects on children.

Research shows that students who consistently miss school are at risk of lower academic achievement, failure and even dropping out of school altogether. Here are some facts:

  • Chronic absenteeism begins as early as pre-kindergarten
  • Absences can be a sign that a student is losing interest in school, struggling with school work, dealing with a bully, or facing some other potentially serious difficulty (e.g., mental health and coping)
  • Compared to children with average attendance, chronically absent students gained 14% fewer literacy skills in kindergarten and 15% fewer literacy skills in 1st grade, and have a much greater likelihood of not reading at grade level by the end of the 3rd grade
  • By 6th grade, chronic absence is one of three early warning signs that a student is more likely to dropout of school
  • By 9th grade, student attendance is a better predictor of graduation than 8th grade test scores

Bringing awareness to the issue of chronic absenteeism, and providing information and resources to parents can help improve student attendance and, consequently, student achievement. In Firebaugh-Las Deltas Unified School District, our motto (for the team of committed staff members who work with students and parents on attendance issues) is Attendance=Achievement. Basically, if you're not in class, you're not learning. If you're not learning, then you may face very serious life difficulties later on as an adult. 

For question related to attendance, or to request resources that would help parents get their child to school on a consistent basis, contact Terry R. Anderson, Director of Administrative Services, at (559) 659-3899.