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.
Find out the chronic absence rate at your child’s school, compare rates across NC school districts, or see how NC stacks up against other states, with this interactive chronic absence map from The Hamilton Project.
What Can We Do About It?
What supports regular school attendance?
- 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.
NCECF’s AttendaNCe Counts publications consider the current NC state, district and school-level policies and practices around regular school attendance and make recommendations for action.
2019 AttendaNCe Counts Community Toolkit
NCECF's new 2019 toolkit to support community partners in highlighting the importance of regular attendance in the early grades.
AttendaNCe Counts: How Schools and Local Communities are Reducing Chronic Absence in North Carolina
NCECF's 2019 AttendaNCe Counts report outlines results from a survey through EducationNC’s Reach NC Voices platform of 1,500 NC parents, preschool staff, elementary school staff and community providers. Respondents shared their impressions of their local attendance policies and practices, including around school environment, family engagement, communication, working with community partners, staff capacity, accuracy of attendance data and more.
AttendaNCe Counts: What North Carolina School Districts are Doing to Reduce Chronic Absence
AttendaNCe Counts: What North Carolina School Districts are Doing to Reduce Chronic Absence provides results of a self-assessment that asked school districts to share which of their attendance policies and practices are strong, and where there are opportunities for improvement. The assessment responses are the self-reported impressions of school district superintendent office staff. Fifty-five out of 115 school districts responded.
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 for the 2015-16 school year was released by the federal Department of Education’s OCR in April 2018.
Data are available for every public and charter school in North Carolina. The North Carolina Early Childhood Foundation (NCECF) 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.
- In North Carolina in 2015-16, 11 percent of elementary school students were chronically absent, which is consistent with national data. There are disparities by race/ethnicity and a slight variance by gender.
- American Indian/Alaska Native students have the highest rates in North Carolina at 21%, followed by multiracial (15 percent), and Native Hawaiian/Pacific Islander (13 percent). Eleven percent of both black and white students were chronically absent. The lowest rates were among Hispanic (9 percent) and Asian students (7 percent).
- Boys were absent at a slightly higher rate than girls (11 vs. 10 percent).
- Nearly three out of every four Local Education Agencies (LEAs) in North Carolina reported from 5 to 15 percent of their elementary school students as chronically absent. In some districts, however, chronic absence was as high as 23 percent. Experts at the national organization Attendance Works say that chronic absence rates under about five percent are likely due to data collection errors.