Chronic Absenteeism

Chronic absenteeism is generally defined as missing 10% or more of days during the school year (approximately 18 days) for any reason including suspensions, changing schools, and excused absences due to illness. Missing just two days of school each month in a traditional school year can result in a student being considered chronically absent.



  • Chronic physical health issues 
  • Mental health conditions
  • Lack of accessible transportation to school
  • Safeness of the community environment
  • Economic and housing instability – Lack of access to essential resources such as food, housing and healthcare can cause excessive absences due to negative impacts on health and wellness of the students and families. 
  • Cultural context – Language barriers and negative interactions at school due to a student’s race, ethnicity, religion, gender, disability, or sexual orientation can create an unhealthy school climate leading to aversion to school attendance. 
  • And more – other individual, social, and community impacts can cause a student to miss school days. 



  • Students who are chronically absent are at risk for falling behind and dropping out of school. Chronic absenteeism can start as early as preschool.
  • Missing too many days of preschool, kindergarten, and first grade can set students back in their reading abilities. As seen in Who Can Read on Grade Level After 3rd Grade?  by AttendanceWorks, studies show that the inability to read at grade-level by third grade is a critical marker for students' future success - putting them at risk for faltering in later grades and more likely to drop out of high school.

Students who dropout of high school are also at an increased risk of experiencing health and social problems into adulthood, negatively impacting a student’s life-long success.

  • High rates of chronically absent students in a class can hinder other students’ learning when teachers must provide remedial instruction.
  • Loss of school funding, determined by Average Daily Attendance, from the cumulative missed school days can result in a significant loss of funding for districts.
  • Research shows that student attendance is critical to the attainment of higher education and positive life outcomes that includes social, mental, and physical health.
  • Chronic absenteeism can impact the education and workforce development and subsequently limit the future of communities.
Chronic absenteeism can cascade and affect peers, staff, schools and the larger community.



Analysis by Live Well San Diego shows that trends of steadily increasing chronic absenteeism rates for students from lower socioeconomic status , minority groups , and other under-resourced student populations .

  • In San Diego County, 11% of all students were chronically absent in SY 2018-2019; 56,926 students were chronically absent for the county.
  • In California, 12.1% of all students were chronically absent in that same school year; 755,960 students were chronically absent students statewide.
  • 41,918 (80.7%) of San Diego County’s 51,926 chronically absent students are socioeconomically disadvantaged.
  • The highest rates of chronic absenteeism in San Diego County schools are in students in foster care and students with homelessness, as depicted below for SY 2018-19. These two student subgroups also had the highest increase in chronic absenteeism rates since the start of data collection in SY 2016-17.
Chronic Absenteeism



Chronic absenteeism is a complex and challenging issue. Supporting student health to improve attendance requires an interdisciplinary and collaborative approach that includes students, families, schools, and community partners.

  • Students, families, schools, and community partners can address and improve the physical and social environment around students through targeted wellness interventions, including safe routes to school.
  • Students can often be their own best advocates on how to improve the safety and positivity of the school climate.
  • Schools can collaborate with families and students on strategies to monitor attendance and personalize early outreach to prevent patterns of absences.
  • Recognizing improved attendance at school can increase student self-esteem and reward students in reaching their goals.          

Identifying the reasons for student absences from a regional perspective to a student-level view is a key step towards understanding the type of 

needed to improve student attendance and academic success. So…

What's Your Role?


Want more information about your district's chronic absenteeism data?

Live Well Schools’ 2019 Partnerships for Healthy Schools report cumulates the recent data and trends to start the discussion about how a strong wellness policy and effective budgeting investments in student physical and mental health and wellness can lead to better attendance. 

To learn more about your district-specific data and trends please email Pam Smith for your school district's individual Healthy Schools report.

Click to view a sample Healthy Schools report and Live Well School's Healthy Schools infographic: