Student Absenteeism: Three New Studies to Know

May 08, 2017

By Sarah D. Sparks


In secondary school, skipping class can often fly under the radar of administrators calculating chronic absenteeism, but all those hours add up, finds a new study in the journal AERA Open.

Researchers Camille Whitney of Mindful Schools and Jing Liu of Stanford University tracked class-by-class attendance for more than 50,000 middle and high school students in an urban district from 2007-08 to 2012-13. They found that missing individual classes accounted for as many total missed days as full-day absences—added all up, the chronic absenteeism rate rose from 9 percent to 24 percent of the district's secondary students.

"If you are just looking at full-day absences, you are not capturing all of the students who are at risk," Whitney said.

Moreover, while more than half of the district's full-day absences were excused—including extracurricular trips, for example—more than 9 in 10 of the partial absences were not excused.

"Students are choosing their subjects. They do attend their core classes [reading and math] at a higher rate than their noncore classes," Whitney said, "but it is paralleling which classes they like the most. They miss social studies classes the least, math classes the most."

The first and last periods of the day were those most likely to be skipped, with 4 percent to 5 percent of classes gone during those times. Like Gottfried, Whitney said this pattern may point to students having trouble getting to and from school, and she said it suggests administrators may be able to mitigate the effects of skipping class by scheduling study halls or advisory periods to bookend critical classes.