Proper use of data can help combat chronic absences in schools
Each September, National Attendance Awareness Month is celebrated, coinciding with the beginning of the school year and sending an important reminder to school staff and district leaders about the importance of monitoring student attendance.
To help with this effort, California educators now have easy access to chronic absence data for the first time through DataQuest on the California Department of Education website and through the chronic absence story map from the University of California, Davis. The fall 2018 California School Dashboard will also include two years of chronic absence data, allowing the CDE to set benchmarks for improvement. This data is essential to implementing effective strategies to improve student achievement and close opportunity gaps.

  • Local educational agencies can use the CDE’s DataQuest to access detailed chronic absence data
  • Accurate data allows for targeted planning and implementation of effective strategies to improve student achievement and close opportunity gaps
What is chronic absenteeism?

Chronic absenteeism is defined as missing 10 percent or more of school days — or just two absences a month when spread over the school year — and includes both excused and unexcused absences. Such absenteeism is a top indicator of how well a child will perform academically while they are in school. A National Center for Children in Poverty analysis of chronically absent kindergarten students revealed lower subsequent academic performance in first grade than their peers, with reading scores for Latino children the most affected. Among low-income children who often lack the resources to make up for time missed, chronic kindergarten absences translated into lower achievement in fifth grade. Several state-specific studies have reinforced that chronic absenteeism is one of the earliest indicators for academic failure. By the sixth grade, chronic absences are one of the primary indicators that student will drop out of high school. By ninth grade, missing 20 percent or more of school days is a better indicator of whether a student will drop out than eighth-grade test scores.

High levels of chronic absenteeism signal that a student may face situations that are preventing them from daily attendance. When a school or district has a high chronic absence rate, it can be a sign that strategies to engage and meet the needs of students and families are not in place.

What does California’s chronic absentee data say?

A new report from Attendance Works, Children Now and the UC Davis Center for Regional Change analyzed the chronic absence data available through DataQuest. Among the results:

  • In about one in 10 public schools, nearly 20 percent or more of students are chronically absent.
  • Nearly one in five public high schools experience chronic absence rates of greater than 20 percent.
  • The largest number of public schools with chronic absence rates of 20 percent or more are elementary schools.
  • School-level chronic absence is correlated to higher suspension rates, higher dropout rates, lower graduation rates and fewer graduates completing college-track courses.
How can school boards use chronic absentee data?

A newly released brief from Attendance Works and CSBA outlines the new report and chronic absenteeism, cites specific demographic data as it relates to chronic absence rates and summarizes the four major causes of chronic absenteeism: barriers such as lack of health care, trauma, poor transportation and participation in the welfare systems; negative school experiences such as bullying, suspensions and lack of appropriate accommodations for disability; lack of engagement that can include such factors as a lack of meaningful relationships with adults in the school, unwelcoming school climate and lack of culturally relevant and/or engaging instruction; and misconceptions such as the belief that absences are only a problem if they are unexcused.

Steps school board members can take to address chronic absenteeism
  • Evaluate chronic absence data for your district and disaggregate by school, student population and grade levels to determine where problems lie.
  • Build awareness of chronic absenteeism and how it can be addressed through additional supports — such as school site-based attendance teams — and community-based partners.
  • Bring together your district or county office of education with other public agencies or community partners to review data on chronic absence and develop plans for improving attendance.
  • Address chronic absence rates in the district’s Local Control and Accountability Plan.

Read the new CSBA/Attendance Works brief at

Read the full Attendance Works report, “Seize the Data Opportunity: Using Chronic Absence to Improve Educational Outcomes,” at

Read “Hidden in Plain Sight: How Chronic Absenteeism Affects Student Achievement,” Califonia Schools, Fall 2017: