10% of metro students were chronically absent during the 2015-2016 school year.

Let's Break It Down

This means that 12,797 students missed more than 10% of their school year in 2015-16.

Missing more than 10% of a school year, or 18 days per year, is a national benchmark that schools across the country use to understand which students are chronically absent. Douglas and Sarpy County schools use a threshold of 20 days. Locally, 1,197 students (8%) in Pottawattamie County, 10,219 (11%) students in Douglas, and 1,381 (5%) students in Sarpy County missed at least 10% of the years’ school days. 

Tracking the number of absences is a clear metric, but the reasons for absences can be more difficult to understand. Individual schools vary both in how they track reasons for student absences, and how they input this information into school databases. Students may be absent due to illness or because a parent faces challenges in getting them to school as a result of transportation or a work schedule. Other absences are a result of students struggling with physical or mental health needs.

Pottawattamie County schools have only recently started measuring student attendance during the 2015-2016 school year. They have historically measured this by Average Daily Attendance (ADA), determining which percentage of students were in school every day, instead of how many days of school a student was missing. The initial data they have collected is still very preliminary. 

Why Does It Matter?

Absenteeism affects early learning milestones and long-term success in school. 

When students aren’t in school they miss out on important teaching time, even when they may be absent for reasons out of their control (serious illness, emergencies, etc.). A student who is behind in their daily instruction can then fall behind in testing and completing school.

Missing too much school at a young age can impact early learning. One study found that only 17% of chronically absent students in kindergarten and first grade were proficient in reading by third grade. Comparatively, 63% of students who were not chronically absent were able to read in third grade. Chronic absenteeism continues to impact academic success throughout elementary school. A National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) study found that 4th and 8th graders who missed more than three days in the month before a test scored significantly lower than students who missed no days. Other research has shown that chronic absenteeism as early as 6th grade can indicate that a student will drop out of high school.

Students are often absent due to reasons that require additional support and assistance for the entire family. These obstacles include students’ safety getting to and from school, an untreated physical or mental health need, or a parent working multiple jobs struggling to get their child to school. Addressing the challenges of chronic absenteeism will likely require support beyond just the school or district; it involves a community effort to help families identify and work around these more systemic barriers to ensure that children are in school every day. 

How Do We Compare?

We are faring better than the national average.

The U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights reports that 13% of students (6.5 million)  nationwide miss three or more weeks of school—or around ten percent of all school days.  Locally, we fare slightly better with 10% of students missing 10% or more of all school days. 

Data Source: Nebraska Department of Education, Iowa Department of Education, Attendance Works


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