- A new report from the Economic Policy Institute (EPI), "Student absenteeism: Who misses school and how missing school matters for performance," found that a fifth of 8th-graders (19.2%) were chronically absent in 2015, with no significant rate differences when compared to 4th-graders, and "relatively stable" patterns between 2003 and 2015.
- Absenteeism rates were also significantly impacted by poverty, disability status, race/ethnicity and language status: 26% of students with an individualized education program, 23.2% of free-lunch-eligible students, 17.9% of reduced-price-lunch-eligible students, 24.1% of Hispanic English learners, 24% of Native American students and 23% of black students missed three or more days of school in the month before taking the National Assessment of Educational Progress math assessment.
- Utah, Alaska, Wyoming, New Mexico, Montana and the District of Columbia all stood out for having the highest percentages of students missing three or more days of school, and the research also confirmed prior data on the impact of chronic absenteeism on academic performance.
Along with recent national data from Attendance Works, The EPI report comes alongside 36 states and the District of Columbia naming chronic absenteeism as a student success metric in their state accountability plans under the Every Student Succeeds Act. That the findings seem to fall sharply along socioeconomic lines points to broader issues that stretch beyond the classroom.
For instance, aside from the District of Columbia, the five states identified as having the highest student absenteeism rates are largely rural. And while that may differentiate them from an urban locale like D.C., all six likely contend with sharp socioeconomic divides, albeit in varying ways.
Lower-income students may be dealing with health disparities, food insecurity, a lack of access to reliable transportation if they miss the bus (particularly in a rural area), and even a lack of clean clothes — all issues that can contribute to higher absenteeism rates. Factoring in the potential for homelessness, as well, there are a significant number of issues that can make regular attendance difficult.
While administrators can take some steps to alleviate some of these obstacles to an extent, they can't be expected to address the effects of poverty on students' attendance and performance alone. But they can work to raise public awareness and pressure lawmakers and policymakers to enact legislation that can address child poverty and remove the barriers that keep students out of school. Additionally, states struggling with high absenteeism rates might also consider what those with the highest full attendance rates, like California, have done. In that state, for example, Sen. Kamala Harris (then the state's attorney general) worked to develop an online truancy toolkit and made addressing absenteeism a priority during her time in that role.