Consistent school attendance in the early grades improves children’s learning and achievement.
Chronic absenteeism is an early predictor of student performance. As early as prekindergarten, children who are chronically absent (miss 10 percent of the academic year for any reason) are:
- less likely to read proficiently by the end of third grade,
- more likely to be retained, and
- less likely to develop the social skills needed to persist in school.
Attendance is actionable. Schools and districts across the country have reduced chronic absence by:
- focusing on recognizing good and improved attendance,
- engaging students and families,
- monitoring attendance data and practice,
- providing personalized early outreach as needed, and
- developing systemic responses to attendance barriers.
What Can We Do About It?
- Policies and practices that focus on tracking and using actionable, responsive data and engaging families and communities, and
- Evidence-based and evidence-informed programs that foster a positive and engaging school climate.
This issue brief - updated in 2018 to include the most recent chronic absence data - examines the state of the state around chronic absenteeism policies and practices in North Carolina.
Reducing Chronic Absence: Framing the Discussion
More than 40 Campaign for Grade-Level Reading community leaders and Pathways to Grade-Level Reading Regular School Attendance Design Team members met to discuss how to tackle chronic absence in NC. The strategy discussion featured Hedy Chang, executive director of Attendance Works. Attendance Works is a national organization that provides expertise, research and technical assistance on reducing chronic absence. This is the presentation that she shared.
Research Basis for Pathways Measures of Success Framework
This resource provides data definitions of the Measures of Success and shares the research for each measure, demonstrating the connections between the measures and third-grade reading proficiency. A list of sources is included for each group of measures.
What Works for Third Grade Reading: Regular Attendance
The brief considers why regular attendance at preschool and the early grades matters for third grade reading proficiency, outlines its connection with other factors that impact early literacy, and highlights options that have been shown to move the needle on attendance. It is one of 12 working papers that offer research-based policy, practice and program options to states and communities working to improve third grade reading proficiency.
Related News Posts
More About Regular School Attendance
Chronic Absence: Why it Matters for Third Grade Reading
Research demonstrates that regular school attendance is critical for children’s early literacy development, starting in preschool.1 Children, particularly those with multiple risk factors, benefit from regular attendance at a high quality early education program where they learn to work on tasks independently and follow directions. Child care settings also provide opportunities to identify early warning signs and to establish good attendance and learning habits.2
Consistent school attendance in the early grades boosts children’s academic learning, achievement, and motivation.3 Early chronic absence is associated with:
- lower academic achievement,
- truancy in middle school,
- school dropout,
- delinquency, and
- substance abuse.4
When children miss a substantial number of school days, it is more difficult for them to learn to read and to acquire other crucial academic skills.5 The educational experience of regularly-attending children may also be adversely affected when teachers must divert their attention to meet the learning and social needs of chronically absent children when they return to school.
As North Carolina aims to increase the percentage of third grade students reading at grade level and succeeding longer term, measuring and addressing chronic absence is a critical strategy.
- Campaign for Grade-Level Reading, Attendance in the Early Grades: Why it Matters for Reading, 2014. http://www.attendanceworks.org/wordpress/wp-content/uploads/2014/03/Attendance-in-the-Early-Grades.pdf ↵
- Annie E Casey Foundation, Early Warning Confirmed, 2013. http://www.aecf.org/m/resourcedoc/AECF-EarlyWarningConfirmed-2013.pdf and Schorr, L., Pathway to Children Ready for School and Succeeding at Third Grade, 2007. ↵
- Attendance Works, Attendance in the Early Grades: Why It Matters for Reading. (2014). Retrieved from http://www.attendanceworks.org/wordpress/wp-content/uploads/2014/03/Attendance-in-the-Early-Grades.pdf ↵
- Annie E Casey Foundation, Early Warning Confirmed, op. cit. and Schorr, L., Pathway to Children Ready for School and Succeeding at Third Grade, op cit. ↵
- Ibid. ↵
Chronic Absence as a Measure of School Quality
Chronic absence is an effective measure of school quality. It is:
- An early predictor of student performance and one of the few available measures of school quality for the early (untested) grades.
- One of the only available measures for the early grades.
- Already reported by school districts to the U.S. Department of Education and is based on data they already maintain in their systems
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. Since students do not take standardized tests until the third grade, many district accountability systems largely ignore the early grades (prekindergarten through second grade). An indicator like chronic absence, which can be measured for all children, adds focus to the early grades. Including the early grades in measurements of school quality encourages investment and continuous improvement in early learning.
States across the nation are taking a close look at chronic absence and finding it to be a useful measure of school quality. About two-thirds of the state ESSA plans submitted to the federal Department of Education for approval included chronic absence as a measure.1 North Carolina’s proposed ESSA plan does not define chronic absence as a measure, but the plan does include language about focusing more on chronic absence in the future
The North Carolina Pathways to Grade Level Reading Initiative partners have highlighted chronic absence as a critical measure to ensure that young children are on the pathway to early literacy and chosen the measure as one of three areas of focus for the state.
The national Campaign for Grade-Level Reading also has prioritized regular attendance as one of its three core solutions that can contribute to more children reading at grade level by the end of third grade.
- Email communication with FutureEd, Georgetown University’s McCourt School of Public Policy, and Inclusion of Chronic Absence in State ESSA Plans, Attendance Works, June 2017. Available online at: https://files.buildthefoundation.org/wp-content/uploads/2018/07/Chronic-Absence-Chart-ESSA.pdf ↵
Chronic Absence in North Carolina
Chronic absence data was last reported nationwide in 2013-14 by the federal Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights (OCR). School districts have reported chronic absence data for the 2015-16 school year to OCR, and it should be publicly available in January 2018.
Data are available for every school in North Carolina. The North Carolina Early Childhood Foundation has analyzed and aggregated those school-level results to determine the percentage of students in each school district who were chronically absent in schools with kindergarten-, first-, second- and/or third-grade students. The OCR definition of chronic absence is missing 15 days or more of the school year.
- 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 percent in Rowan County to a high of 26.4 percent 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.1
Detailed chronic absence data disaggregated by district, race/ethnicity, and gender are available online at: http://buildthefoundation.org/chronic-absence/.