Chronic Student Absenteeism: A Significant and Overlooked Obstacle to Student Achievement

April 12, 2019

Decades of research document the significant negative impacts of student absenteeism on academic achievement, emotional development, graduation, health, and long-term success (Gottfried, 2015). Yet, until just a few years ago, the U.S. K–12 education system was virtually unaware that it had a chronic student absenteeism problem. Prior to that time, chronic absenteeism was never tracked by school systems, let alone addressed. A recent analysis of the data revealed that a significant number of students (one in seven) were chronically absent, defined as missing 10% of school days (Balfanz & Brynes, 2012). And that was the threshold number. Many students identified as chronically absent missed more than 10%. The corresponding negative impacts worsen with every additional day of school missed. 

This overview looks at the best available evidence on chronic student absenteeism in the context of (1) the scale of the problem at all levels of the education system: national, state, school, and grade; (2) the impact on student academic performance, graduation, health, and financial impact on school districts; (3) impact multipliers that exacerbate chronic absenteeism, such as poverty, student mobility, homelessness, and disciplinary suspensions; and (4) interventions utilizing a public health tiered model for different levels of action depending on need, a performance feedback system to track and modify the results of each intervention, and coordination of resources across a wide range of education stakeholders.

Citation: Keyworth, R., Detrich, R. & States, J. (2019). Overview of Chronic Student Absenteeism: A Significant and Overlooked Obstacle to Student Achievement. Oakland, CA: The Wing Institute.