Chronic absence is on the rise: 8 million students were chronically absent before the pandemic closed schools, and the pandemic has led to alarming increases in chronic absence. In the 2020-21 school year, at least 10 million students missed 10% or more of school days. Recent data from Connecticut, Michigan, California, and Ohio reveal that chronic absenteeism doubled in 2021-22 in these states, and it has likely doubled nationwide to 16 million students.

Regular attendance ensures students have access to learning in the classroom and allows students to build relationships with their peers and adults in schools

These high levels of chronic absence have exacerbated educational and societal inequities that existed long before COVID-19. Students from low-income backgrounds, students of color, students whose families speak languages other than English, and those with disabilities are more likely to be chronically absent from school — and may lack the resources and opportunities to make up for lost time in the classroom. This equity issue can be addressed, however, when evidence-based decisions are made to identify and support the underlying causes of chronic absence.

This brief highlights five things that advocates should know about how leaders can address chronic absence.

  1. Chronic absence is often hidden.
  2. Chronic absence is a reflection of the school and community environment.
  3. Punitive responses are not effective.
  4. Improving attendance requires prevention and early intervention.
  5. Reducing chronic absence requires authentic partnerships with students, families, and communities.