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New findings link chronic absenteeism to school achievement

May 16, 2012
John W. Gardner Center for Youth and Their Communities
Empty desks
Empty desks
Kindergartners have the highest rates of chronic absence among Redwood City students, according to a John W. Gardner Center study.

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When students are not in school, they miss opportunities to grow academically, socially, and emotionally. These skills are critical for continued success in school, in the community, and onward into adulthood. The focus of most school attendance policies is truancy, which involves unexcused absences from school. In contrast, chronic absenteeism involves both excused and unexcused absences. While truancy is tracked systematically, chronic absence can easily slip under the radar of district and school leaders.

The John W. Gardner Center for Youth and Their Communities (JGC) at Stanford University conducted an analysis to study truancy and chronic absenteeism among Redwood City students using data from Redwood City School District, Sequoia Union High School District, and San Mateo County Human Services Agency.  JGC’s research examined the extent to which truancy and chronic absenteeism are present in the Redwood City area, and explored the causes, consequences, and correlates of absenteeism that may be present in the community.  

Findings from this research are relevant for students, parents, teachers, school officials, and policy makers.  Kindergartners had the highest rates of chronic absence, which points to the need for early interventions targeted both to students and their parents.  Chronically absent students were likely to repeat their chronic absence in subsequent grades, further underscoring the importance of early intervention.  Those with excessive absences had lower achievement on both the math and English Language Arts standardized tests, highlighting the essential role attendance plays in academic outcomes. The underlying factors influencing students’ chronic absence are likely to be diverse – from transportation issues to prolonged health problems – indicating the importance of developing systems for tracking chronic absence information to have accurate data on which to base interventions.

“Communities across the country are taking steps to combat chronic absenteeism,” said Monika Sanchez, the JGC Policy Analyst who conducted the research, “including leveraging resources and investing in early prevention efforts.  It will be important to keep working toward evidence-based assessments and rigorous evaluations to identify effective practices.”  By working collaboratively, researchers and community organizations who partner to establish sustainable attendance initiatives can make significant strides in improving outcomes for youth.