Attendance and Chronic Absence
Why Attendance Matters
Research shows that school attendance is significantly related to student achievement.
Too many absences can keep students from learning to read at grade level by third grade, which is a strong predictor of future academic success, including high school graduation and college attendance. Students who fall behind early are much more likely to drop out of school and much less likely to develop the skills needed for career success.
How many absences are too many? Research shows that missing 10% of a school year can knock a student off track. That’s about 18 days in a typical school year, or just two days a month.
Chronic Absence in Arizona
A student is considered chronically absent when they miss 10% or more of a school’s calendar year for any reason, excused or unexcused.
Recent data from the Arizona Department of Education shows a dramatic, post-pandemic spike in the rate of chronic absence in Arizona’s public schools:
- 34% of Arizona’s K-8 students were identified as chronically absent in 2022, up from 14% in 2019.
- Chronic absence rates were even higher among economically disadvantaged students (42%) and Native American students (48%).
These trends are alarming, but chronic absence is a problem we can solve. There are effective, inexpensive strategies to tackle chronic absence that involve schools, communities and families working together.
Students miss school for many different reasons. Challenges may include the lack of consistent housing or transportation, which is a common barrier in rural communities. Family circumstances, illness, or trauma can be involved. Some students may be struggling or disengaged, with no meaningful relationships to adults in the school. Every circumstance is different and often complex.
“Chronic absence is different from truancy, which only counts unexcused absences. Effective approaches to chronic absence cultivate student and family engagement, so that families and students are not problems to be solved but are active in designing the solutions.” — Hedy Chang, Attendance Works
The good news is that preventing absences also produces increases in early literacy outcomes. Data analysis showed that a 1% increase in school-level attendance rate was associated with a 1.5% increase in students passing Arizona’s third grade reading assessment.
Read On Arizona has convened a statewide chronic absence task force to explore the problem and identify effective, proactive strategies to reduce rates of chronic absence in our state. Leaders from the Governor’s office, school districts, state agencies, community partners, legislative staff, and education stakeholders are reviewing data, conferring with national experts from Attendance Works, and will develop recommendations and resources focused on prevention and re-engaging students and families.
Attendance Works has extensive information on chronic absence, policies, and research.
Read On Arizona’s MapLIT data mapping tool includes data on chronic absence by county, district, First Things First region, and more. See the Key Topics section and select Chronic Absence from the left menu.
Missing Too Much School: Trends in K-8 Chronic Absenteeism in Arizona During the Pandemic is a research brief published in 2022 by Helios Education Foundation and WestED.
Factors Related to Early Childhood Literacy is a research study initiated by Read On Arizona which showed that two independent measures of student attendance were predictive of school-level reading achievement.
Preventing Missed Opportunity: Taking Collective Action to Confront Chronic Absence is a report from Attendance Works and the Everyone Graduates Center at Johns Hopkins University that examines the scale and scope of chronic absence and highlights that it is a solvable problem; the key is collecting, analyzing, and sharing real-time chronic absence data in order to spur collective action, and enlisting support from community partners. (Read On Arizona and MapLIT are highlighted on p. 31.)