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Report: 6 million students miss too much school

Students from all parts of the country and of all racial and ethnic backgrounds, missed significant amounts of school
Chronically absent students are more likely to struggle academically and less likely to graduate. (Click to enlarge graphic)
Chronically absent students are more likely to struggle academically and less likely to graduate. (Click to enlarge graphic)

More than 6 million students—representing 13 percent of the K12 population—missed at least 15 days of school in 2013-14, according to a first-of-its-kind analysis from the U.S. Department of Education.

“Every district has attendance data, but most haven’t been calculating chronic absence,” says Hedy Nai-Lin Chang, executive director of Attendance Works, a national initiative to increase student achievement by increasing attendance. “If you’re looking at access and equity in schools—whether or not kids are in school so they have a chance to learn—is a huge indicator of whether we’re creating equal opportunities.”

These “chronically absent” students were more likely to struggle academically and less likely to graduate, research shows.

“While every child grapples with challenges from time to time, such as illness or a family emergency, we’re finding from growing research that chronic absenteeism is a cause of low academic achievement, and a powerful indicator of which students are at the highest risk of dropping out,” says James Cole Jr., who, as general counsel to the U.S. Department of Education, serves as a deputy secretary.

Students from all parts of the country, and of all racial and ethnic backgrounds, missed significant amounts of school, the analysis found. High school students had the highest rate of chronic absenteeism—almost 20 percent—followed by middle school (12 percent) and elementary students (10 percent).

Disability status also was a factor, as more than 17 percent of students with disabilities were chronically absent, compared to 12 percent of students without disabilities.

Tools to keep kids in school

In an effort to help states and local communities reduce absenteeism by at least 10 percent each of the next several years, the Obama Administration launched last fall “Every Student, Every Day: A National Initiative to Address and Eliminate Chronic Absenteeism.”

The initiative offers a toolkit that includes the following recommendations:

  • Track daily attendance and flag students who miss several days of school.
  • Invest in early warning, prevention and intervention services for these students.
  • Deliver positive messages—through mentoring, counseling and programs such as Positive Behavior Interventions and Supports—that excite students about coming to school.
  • Avoid punitive messages that can create resentment that drives students away from school, and can worsen the cycle of absenteeism, suspensions and referrals to law enforcement.
  • Work with community organizations to improve access to health care, transportation and housing. A lack of these necessities are some of the leading causes of absenteeism.