What is Chronic Absence? Most children miss a few days of school each year without long- term consequences. However, when they are chronically absent, defined as missing 10 percent of school days within one academic year for any reason, their school success is at significant risk.
Why does Chronic Absence Matter? It is more difficult for children to learn to read and to gain other foundational academic skills when they miss many school days. As early as pre-kindergarten, students who are chronically absent are less likely to read proficiently by the end of third grade and more likely to be retained. Chronically absent kindergartners are less likely to develop the social skills needed to persist in school. The problems multiply when students are chronically absent several years in a row.
Chronic Absence in the Early Grades in North Carolina. Nationwide, 11 percent of elementary school students are chronically absent, and there are racial and ethnic gaps. The numbers are similar in North Carolina: in 2012, two-thirds of LEAs had from 5 to 15 percent of their elementary-school students chronically absent. Percentages range from a low of 0.4% in Rowan County to a high of 26.4% in Warren County. Statewide, Hispanic students, on average, see the lowest chronic absence rates at 10 percent, while American Indian and Pacific Islander/Hawaiian students see the highest at 23 and 24 percent, respectively. Eleven percent of Asian elementary-school students are chronically absent, compared to 12 percent of Black, 13 percent of White, and 17 percent of “two or more race” students.
Chronic absence is an early warning indicator. Chronic absence data can reveal that a student needs help long before test scores or grades do. Using chronic absence as a trigger for early interventions could be an important strategy for closing the achievement gap for low-income children and affected racial minorities.
Chronic absence puts focus on the early grades. Since students are not tested until the third grade, many district accountability systems largely ignore the early grades (PK-2). An indicator like chronic absence, which can be measured for all children, shifts some focus to the early grades. Including the early grades in measurements of school quality encourages investment and continuous improvement in early learning.
Chronic absence data is actionable to improve student outcomes. States and districts can use chronic absence rates to identify schools and districts that need support and technical assistance. Districts and schools can analyze their chronic absence data, combined with student, parent and/or teacher surveys, and use the results to support parent and teacher engagement. Data can help them better understand students’ barriers to attendance, work with families and community partners to remove those barriers, request resources, and communicate the importance of daily attendance.
Chronic Absence is supported by the NC Pathways to Grade-Level Reading Measures of Success Framework. North Carolina state leaders – working with a Data Action Team composed of 30 experts from NC’s leading universities, research institutes, government agencies, and think tanks – identified shared birth-to-eight, whole-child measures of success to put children on a pathway to grade-level reading. The NC Pathways to Grade-Level Reading Initiative is creating partnerships among the state’s early learning and education, public agency, policy, philanthropic and business leaders to define a common vision, shared measures of success and coordinated strategies that support children’s optimal development beginning at birth.
Download disaggregated data on chronic absence in the early grades in North Carolina.