Chronic Absenteeism



Why do we measure chronic absenteeism?

Reducing chronic absenteeism can help ensure better educational and health outcomes for all children. (1) Chronic absenteeism starting as early as elementary school increases children’s risk of falling behind academically and socially, which can affect test scores and graduation rates. (2,3) Children who are frequently absent in pre-K, kindergarten, or first grade are less likely to read at grade level by third grade, and older students who are frequently absent are at greater risk for substance use, violence, and delinquency. (1,2) Chronic absenteeism may reflect poor student health, student mental illness, and financial or emotional problems at home. (1,3) However, chronic absenteeism may also be driven by structural factors that disproportionately affect Black and Hispanic children, such as poverty, segregation, lack of transportation, unpredictable work schedules, caring for a family member, and interactions with the justice system. (4) When schools respond to absenteeism using school suspensions and punitive justice system tools, these problems worsen and further perpetuate racial inequities. Partnering with families and implementing non-punitive, prevention-focused interventions can improve daily school attendance and ensure that students receive the support they need to thrive. (3,4)

How do we measure chronic absenteeism?

This metric calculates the percentage of public-school students who miss 10% or more (~15 days, depending on the district) of the academic year. All schools located within congressional district geographical boundaries are included in the estimate. Thus, this is a congressional district-level, not a school district-level, estimate. All public schools that have students enrolled in K-12 and that are not classified as special education or as fully virtual schools, are included in the calculation.

Education is managed at the state, not the national, level. Individual states and school districts account for attendance and chronic absenteeism in varied approaches. The data on the Congressional District Health Dashboard presents a uniform definition of chronic absenteeism that does not necessarily equate how these states and school districts locally report school attendance measures. As a result, the data on the Dashboard should not be used to make school or district accountability decisions. The data can be used for informational purposes, considered within the context of other health and social trends and impacts.



Chronic absenteeism measures all absences, whether excused or unexcused, because both types can affect academic achievement.

This metric is available broken down by race and ethnicity, which can help target resources and interventions for groups that historically have been underrepresented.

This metric present chronic absenteeism as a unified measure across the entire nation, providing a level of national cohesion and availability that is not often available.

Chronic absenteeism has not been measured consistently across the country, so some congressional districts and states may use different definitions than those presented here. (5)

Even though absences are counted in the same way for all demographic groups, some will be disproportionately affected by those absences, and we cannot capture that in this metric.

Race and ethnicity data are often collected using discrete options that may not account for all or multiple identities, leading to undercounting of those who are more likely to select “other.”


Chronic absenteeism is calculated by the following formula:

Chronic Absenteeism Calculation

For more information on the calculation, please refer to the type: entry-hyperlink id: 6UKR8H9KwWiJt51kA2hSpC.

Data Source

Estimates for this metric are from the National Center for Education Statistics and the U.S. Department of Education

Years of Collection:

Calculated by the Dashboard Team using data from 2022, 1 year estimate.


  1. U.S. Department of Education. Chronic Absenteeism in the Nation's Schools: An Unprecedented Look at a Hidden Educational Crisis. Accessed January 12, 2018.

  2. McCluskey CP, Bynum TS, Patchin JW. Reducing Chronic Absenteeism: an Assessment of an Early Truancy Initiative. NCCD news. 2004;50:214-234.

  3. Balfanz R, Byrnes V. The importance of being in school: A report on absenteeism in the nation's public schools. The Education Digest. 2012;78(2):4.

  4. McNeely C. Exploring an Unexamined Source of Racial Disparities in Juvenile Court Involvement: Unexcused Absenteeism Policies in U.S. Schools. AERA Open. 2021;(7)doi:233285842110031. 10.1177/23328584211003132.

  5. Balfanz R, Byrnes V. The Importance of Being In School: A Report on Absenteeism in the Nation’s Public Schools. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Center for Social Organization of Schools 2012.

Last updated: February 20, 2024