Rebecca Gau
Stand for Children Arizona Executive Director

Rebecca Gau is the Executive Director of Stand for Children Arizona

When we hear about students regularly being absent from school, a vision of a teen skipping to go have fun with friends probably pops to mind.  Think Ferris Bueller and his magnificent “Day Off”.   But the reality of absenteeism in Arizona schools does not include ballgames and hot tubs.  The reasons for missing significant time in school can be as simple as asthma, lack of dental care, unstable housing, unreliable transportation, and more tragically, neighborhood violence. And it’s not just for teenagers. Research shows that in the early grades, chronic absenteeism is a key factor in children not reading at grade level.


What is Chronic Absenteeism?

Chronic absenteeism is defined as missing at least 15 days in a school year.  Nearly 13 percent of all U.S. students, more than 6 million, missed that many days in the 2013-14 school year, according to data released this month by the U.S. Department of Education.  Just having those numbers is a big deal.  Many schools don’t keep track of chronic absenteeism, and many states only focus on truancy or unexcused absences rather than the proportion of time a child is missing, related to actual learning.


But the new Education Department study finally sheds light on this often overlooked school problem, that has a huge impact on student achievement.  Take, for instance, the month before a student takes the National Assessment of Educational Progress, or NAEP test.  If a student misses just three or more days in that month, they score between 12 and 18 points lower than students without absences.


But we all know that three days is a low number.  Attendance Works estimates that 5 million to 7.5 million U.S. students miss nearly a month of school each year.  Studies show, that leads to poor achievement, lower graduation rates, and social-emotional factors like grit and perseverance.  Just think of how that must affect students who aren’t absent.  Their teacher must somehow figure out how to get all students caught up, affecting the overall productivity of the class.


Thanks to the Department of Education study, we now know that 1 in 8 students are chronically absent.  The American Indian population showed the highest percentage, and students with poor English skills are 22% more likely to miss 15 days than those who are English speakers.  That means Arizona is in the crosshairs of this absenteeism epidemic.


What can be done?

We at Stand for Children Arizona believe you cannot tackle our achievement failures without a strong focus on chronic absenteeism.  Schools first need to keep better records.  And then we must implement early warning and response systems.  This will be a focus of our team, as we look for ways to improve achievement for all students in Arizona.  We would love for you to join us in that effort.  Just click below to become a member of our #EdSquad, to get regular updates on what we’re working on.  With your help, we will make a difference.


Rebecca Gau

Stand for Children Arizona Executive Dir.


For more details on the study, and to see a map of where Arizona’s absenteeism problem is the worst, click here.

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