National News

New data explores the problem of chronic school absences

By Nisa Islam Muhammad -Staff Writer- | Last updated: Sep 25, 2018 - 1:51:37 PM

What's your opinion on this article?

New data released by Attendance Works and the Everyone Graduates Center at Johns Hopkins University found that nearly eight million students in the nation were chronically absent in the 2015-16 school year (the most recent data available), while one out of every four students attend schools with high or extreme levels of chronic absence.


“Chronic absence data casts a spotlight on where we as a country have failed to provide all students with an equal opportunity to receive a quality education,” said Hedy Chang, Executive Director of Attendance Works and a co-author of the report.

Attendance Works defines chronic absence as missing 10 percent of school days for any reason, including suspensions, excused and unexcused absences. In this brief’s data analysis, however, chronic absence refers to missing 15 or more days each year because this is the data point captured in the Civil Rights Data Collection (CRDC).

Chronic absence is an ongoing problem that negatively affects student achievement in every state in the nation. The data shows an increase of more than 800,000 chronically absent students in the 2015-16 school year compared to 2013-14, and the percentage of students chronically absent grew in most states.

“Chronic absence can impact the ability to learn if learning is actually taking place. When learning engages meaningful practice, especially practice that isn’t going to take place outside of the learning environment, you have to be present to build the necessary knowledge and skills.  When students are chronically absent, key information may be missed or lost, creating gaps that can impede the intended learning,” explains Fredericksburg, Va. Education Consultant Lateefah Muhammad. 

“Chronic absences have long range impacts that often are overlooked. Transitioning from school to work, the missed learning knowledge and skills can interfere with the ability to carry out tasks on the job, or socialization skills missed from formative years that creates team building and beneficial group dynamic in employment and personal relationships,” she said.

Highlights of the report, which was released in September, include the following:

• Poverty drives whether many students are likely to be chronically absent, it is a far greater factor than whether they attend a rural, urban, or suburban school.

• About four in 10 high schools have “high or extreme levels” of chronically absent students, (defined as 30 percent or more of enrollment).

• Schools geared for special education students, as well as vocational and alternative education programs, are more likely to have “extreme” levels of absences.

• Chronic absence disproportionately affects particular student populations, with higher rates evident for Native American, Hispanic, African American, Hawaiian and Pacific Islander students.

Learning can take place anywhere when a student is motivated, and abilities are what the student brings to the table, explained Ms. Muhammad.

“If the learning environment is constructed to hone the abilities, being present is imperative. Unfortunately, many of the chronic absentees that are charged to the students are the physical ones. Who is assessing the chronic mental absences of children sitting in the room and failing? Or, worse yet, being given the diplomas and have no skills to build on in society, but they show up to class every day?” asked Ms. Muhammad.

Nation of Islam patriarch, the Honorable Elijah Muhammad developed an independent school system to educate and cultivate Black children called Muhammad University of Islam and placed a great emphasis on attendance, explained Ms. Muhammad. 

“In the Lessons of the Nation of Islam, ‘The Law of Islam prescribes that a Student shall not be given a diploma if he has eight or more absent charges to his account.’ Eight absences are well below the allowed absentee count in most school systems. Since the policy is presented as a prescription, that would indicate an illness, a disease, a problem that has to be attended to at the root of the absenteeism.”