What is Chronic Absenteeism?
Experts in the field define chronic absenteeism as missing 10 percent or more of school days and severe chronic absenteeism as missing 20 percent or more of school days, including excused, unexcused and discipline-related absences (Ehrlich, Gwynne, Pareja, Allensworth, Moore, Jagesic, & Sorice, 2014; Buehler, Tapogna & Chang, 2012; Connoly & Olson, 2004). This definition is used at the National Technical Assistance Center to support attendance intervention, the state and national initiative, Attendance Works and will be used with subsequent national data collection through the Office of Civil Rights. For years, the issue of chronic absenteeism was not widely understood as most states, districts and schools were not measuring it. Instead, many schools use the metric of “Average Daily Attendance” which can greatly mask the number of students who are chronically absent. For example, a school may have a daily attendance rate of 92 percent or higher while one in four students at the school is chronically absent.
Oregon’s Statewide Chronic Absenteeism Plan
The 2015 Oregon Legislature enacted House Bill (HB) 4002 which directed the Oregon Department of Education (ODE) and the Chief Education Office (CEdO) to develop a joint statewide education plan to address chronic absences of students. HB 4002 also specified elements of the plan and directed the two agencies to collaborate with representatives of the Department of Human Services, Oregon Health Authority, Early Learning Division and community and education stakeholders. In the 2015-16 school year, nearly 102,000 students in Oregon - more than one in six children - were chronically absent from school. Nationally, Oregon’s chronic absenteeism rate consistently ranks within the bottom 20 percent of states. Chronic absenteeism in Oregon has a disproportionate impact on specific populations: Oregon’s American Indian and Alaska Native students, students with disabilities, students of color, students experiencing economic disadvantage and students who have received at least one out-of-school suspension. Chronic absenteeism is a concern for students in every grade, with higher rates in kindergarten and 1st grade and then again across all high school grades. These high absenteeism rates lead to devastating outcomes such as students dropping out, low graduation rates and even juvenile justice contacts. Chronic absenteeism is a complex issue that requires a thoughtful and complex response. Schools and students cannot fix this problem alone. Cross-sector partnerships with local and state health agencies, community based organizations, community and business members and families must be leveraged to provide essential wraparound support to address the root causes of chronic absenteeism for all students. Creating these partnerships and welcoming school environments can impact absenteeism rates, high school graduation rates, school discipline and academic performance. Best and promising practices are most successful when they are systematically applied with knowledge of the local context.