The Dangers of Chronic Absenteeism

Author: Shyanne Miller


If students are not in school, they are not learning. That is the main issue behind chronic absenteeism, which has serious implications for student success. Students that are chronically absent are at a higher risk of failing academically or dropping out.


What it is

Chronic absenteeism is defined as missing at least 10 percent of instructional time within one academic year. Chronic absenteeism is not the same as truancy (three days of unexcused absence) or average daily attendance (ADA). ADA can actually mask chronic absence, since it only tells how many students show up to class every day.

  • Currently, Delaware does not measure chronic absenteeism. Delaware only measures ADA and truancy. Delaware code defines truancy as when a student has been absent without a valid excuse for more than three days. Schools are required to notify parents if a student has more than 10 unexcused absences.
  • According to this Everyone Graduates Report, the nation’s rate of chronic absence may range from 10 to 15 percent—numbers not being captured on the state level. By failing to measure and report chronic absence rates, we fail to truly understand the depth of the issue in Delaware.


Who it affects

Chronic absenteeism affects all students. However, it can have especially dire consequences at key times in student’s life, and tends to disproportionately affect disadvantaged students.

  • Kindergarten and first grade students often have absentee rates that rival those in high school. That matters because a child who can read on grade level by third grade is far more likely to graduate than one who does not.
  • Low-income students are four times more likely to be chronically absent, according to Attendance Works, a nationwide initiative promoting better policies around school attendance.
  • There are many reasons students are missing school, including health issues, work and financial responsibility, lack of transportation, unsafe school conditions, and homelessness.


What we can do

Take action by advocating for chronic absenteeism to be a metric in the Every Student Success Act. Measuring chronic absence is the first round of defense. As Delaware continues to form it state plan, make sure your voice is heard. Visit the Delaware Department of Education’s ESSA Stakeholder Engagement page to advocate.

Build a culture of school attendance. Communities, schools, and families need to work together to ensure that all students are getting to and staying in school by addressing the bigger social issues that hinder attendance.

  • Prioritize student health needs by providing comprehensive school health services. Check out this brief on the connection between health and chronic absence.
  • Ensure student safety and engagement through social and emotional learning. Check out this Digging Deeper blog for more on what Delaware students are saying about school safety and engagement.
  • Early childhood educators can help using parent engagement techniques and offering support for at-risk families. Check out this brief from Attendance Works to see how early childhood educators can act.

One Response

  1. Sherlynn Aurelio says:

    I am a Literacy Specialist and work with Tier 3 (our lowest readers) students at the elementary level. This is the absentee record for one of my first graders:
    1stMP 2ndMP 3rdMP 4th Total
    Absences-Unexcused 3 13 10 0 26
    Absences-Excused 4 10 0 0 14
    Absences-Total 7 23 10 0 40

    He has missed at least 1 day a week along with the scattered days that school is closed for holidays and PD. This week he has missed 3 days but may be sick. In spite of his absences, he is one of my best little emergent readers. But since he has so many gaps in his general academic knowledge, he may be up for retention. Another example of a child placed at risk of failure due to a lack of parental responsibility….such a waste of potential. No matter how little support a child gets at home, I can teach a child to overcome his at-risk status but they need to be in school!! Where is the parental accountability? I feel adults need to be held more accountable for even single-day absences when they add up to more than 2 a marking period.

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