Addressing The Critical Impact of Chronic Absenteeism

An empty classroom
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Chronic absenteeism has become a growing issue on a nationwide scale, one that jumped significantly after the pandemic hit. Michael Hale, Director of College, Career & Citizenship + Innovation Educator at Casco Bay High School in Portland, Maine, says that the percentage of ongoing chronic absenteeism has almost doubled, and with it comes other detrimental effects that can severely derail the futures of afflicted students. 

“One thing that is a real concern is that chronic absenteeism is now nationally at 30%,” Hale says “Before now, pre-pandemic, it was roughly 15 to 16%, which already seems high. And I don’t know anybody that’s in education who’s heard that number that hasn’t been floored. We all have different ideas of what the issues are. But collectively, this is a major concern for the county.”

With levels of absenteeism so high, the potential impact it can have on students can be devastating. Challenges stemming from absenteeism can be as common as a lack of readiness for the professional world, but it can also involve serious mental and physical health issues. 

So why has chronic absenteeism risen in the past few years, and what can be done to reverse the trend?

Why the Sudden Increase in Chronic Absenteeism? 

While chronic absenteeism has always been an obstacle, the pandemic has shown that there are various ways to help educate students even when they are not present at school. The increased reliance on technology might have had a slight impact on chronic absenteeism, but as Hale describes, the root of the issue is deeper than that. Students might not always thrive in a particular environment when it comes to education, in school, at home or otherwise. However, school is made to help students achieve their educational goals while also catering to their emotional and social development.

Students often are dealing with much more than just test scores and homework. Absenteeism can be attributed to responsibilities that students have to take on to help with their household duties in some instances. Other absences come down to accessibility obstacles, such as a lack of affordable transportation options to and from school. 

Aside from sickness, familial emergency, and other necessary instances, some absences can be remedied with the help of the schools involved. And that involves schools and families working together to find solutions.

“At the end of the day, it comes down to the relationships between students, families, and the community that the schools and families have built,” says Hale. “It helps to support students in their educational endeavors, whether it’s making up work, being able to jump back into class and not feeling anxious about coming back to class. A lot of students struggle to transition. But what we’re seeing is that most families and their students are going to be okay. It’s the students that are missing 18, 20 days and more that aren’t necessarily getting the support they need. They’re not going to school for the reasons that really concern us.”

What Can Be Done About Chronic Absenteeism? 

Schools have taken on much more responsibility in raising students and influencing their formative years. However, there are some supports that schools offer that help to supplement a student’s home life. Hale emphasizes that there are definitive steps we can take to help curb the alarming levels of chronic absenteeism, particularly fostering a sense of community.

“It’s slowing things down and building that relationship,” he says. “Being relentless in fostering that relationship over the many years it may take to find success in changing that number around for each student. It’s proven through a lot of research that creating a culture and community within your school that invites attendance and makes you feel like you want to go [to school].” 

Hale recommends checking out FutureEd’s attendance playbook for ideas and practical solutions. From this, he cites actions that can be taken from the three tiers of support:

  • Tier 1: Intensive Intervention - Includes actions such as providing free lunches and laundry facilities at schools, increased engagement with students and families, school-based health services, and restorative discipline practices.
  • Tier 2: Early Intervention - Includes actions such as targeted home visits, mentors and tutors, mental health supports, and targeted youth engagement.
  • Tier 3: Universal Prevention - Involves addressing interagency case management, housing insecurity, and truancy.

In addition, districts may need to rethink traditional school structures to accommodate cultural changes.

“In terms of a template [to combat chronic absenteeism] it has to start with the way schools build their infrastructure, their frameworks around that idea, and how well we really know our students,” Hale says.

The level of chronic absenteeism may have increased over the past few years, but educators have more agency over how they impact that increase and how they can turn it around. With greater involvement in student’s lives, a push now can help change the fortunes of young adults personally and professionally into the future.


Michael Millington
Senior Staff Writer

Michael Millington is a senior staff writer for Tech & Learning. A writer and editor with over a decade of experience, his focus on bringing actionable information to those in need is the driving force behind his work. When not researching new advancements in technology, Michael likes to practice his Italian and train his dog Cyril.