Chronic Absenteeism

Percentage of public school students who miss 10% or more school days in an academic year. Note: this metric is at the city (not school district) level.

National Center for Education Statistics, U.S. Department of Education. Calculated by the Dashboard Team using data from the school year ending in 2022.
Dashboard-City Average

Why do we measure chronic absenteeism?

Reducing chronic absenteeism can help ensure better educational and health outcomes for all children.1 As early as elementary school, chronic absenteeism 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, 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, may also play a role in chronic absenteeism.4 These problems become worse when schools respond to absenteeism using school suspensions and punitive justice system tools, which 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 city geographical boundaries are included in the estimate. Thus, this is a city-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. Schools that temporarily taught remotely during the COVID-19 pandemic are not classified as fully virtual and thus are included in the calculation.

The City Health Dashboard presents chronic absenteeism estimates for available school years since 2017-2018. This includes school years affected by the COVID-19 pandemic and remote learning. During school years 2019-2020 and 2020-2021 in particular, school staff and students experienced major disruptions that affected attendance accountability, both in terms of defining student “attendance” for a school day and in terms of data reporting. Individual states, districts, and schools approached these concerns differently, resulting in disparate data methods and availability across the nation. As a result, the data source and the City Health Dashboard advise against using the data to make direct year-to-year comparisons. The data should also not be used to make school or district accountability decisions. The data can be used for informational purposes, considered within the context of the pandemic and how social, political, and structural upheavals affect school operations and student engagement.

Note: The City Health Dashboard has modified this metric in November 2021 and in November 2023 based on consultations with the Stanford Education Data Archive and data availability. For more details, please refer to the City Health Dashboard Technical Document.

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Strengths and Limitations

Strengths of Metric

Limitations of Metric

• 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.

• Chronic absenteeism has not been measured consistently across the country, so some cities may use different definitions than those presented here.5 Particularly during the COVID-19 pandemic when the majority of schools switched to remote learning, classroom attendance encompassed a variety of forms of engagement, often dependent upon district decisions.

• 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 City Health Dashboard Technical Document.

Data Source

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


  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: December 5, 2023