Most U.S. public schools measure students’ average daily attendance for purposes of school report cards and federal accountability. However, according to a May 2012 John Hopkins University Report, schools’ failure to measure chronic absenteeism “can wreak havoc” that “may have already undermined school reform efforts of the past quarter century and negated the positive impact of future efforts.” Chronic absenteeism is defined as missing 10 percent of the school year, or missing a month or more in the previous year, for any reason. A school can have a positive average daily attendance rate of 90 percent, but still have a 40 percent rate of chronic absenteeism. Students who are chronically absent in one year are often chronically absent in multiple years, potentially missing six months to over a year in school over a five year period. Students may be absent for reasons such as illness, work responsibilities, bullying fears, or a preference not to attend school. High absenteeism is linked to increases in student achievement gaps and high school drop-out rates.
According to the report, chronic absenteeism is most prevalent among low-income students, regardless of gender and ethnicity. Chronic absenteeism begins to rise in middle school and climbs continuously through 12th grade; of all students, high school seniors have the highest absenteeism rates. The report suggests that, if low-income students are in school every day, “This alone, even without improvements in the American education system, will drive up achievement, high school graduation, and college attainment rates.”