Understanding chronic absenteeism vs. truancy

Article by Sarah Newman

In the 2019 school year, 5% of students were absent on any given day. Since the pandemic, educators report that this number has doubled. This is a cause of concern, primarily, because attendance is directly correlated with academic performance. More importantly, school attendance and participation also offer students access to social, behavioral and cultural skills that help cultivate a sense of belonging in the world.

Yet, experts suggest that not all absences are the same. They recommend that while designing interventions, educators must consider what kind of absence it is. For this purpose, they identify two types of student absence: Chronic absenteeism and truancy

What is chronic absenteeism?

Absenteeism is considered chronic when a student misses more than 15 school days in a year — including excused, unexcused and suspended days.

What is truancy?

Absenteeism is considered truant when a student misses more than a minimum number of days in a year without a valid excuse. The minimum number differs from state to state. For instance, in California, this is three days of absence or 30-minute tardiness thrice each month. 

What can educational institutions do to prevent chronic absenteeism and truancy?

Experts suggest a combination of class-wide as well as personalized strategies to address problems of absenteeism. 

Some commonly used class-wide strategies are: 

  • Setting attendance goals at the beginning of the school year, when students and parents are excited about the fresh start
  • Communicating attendance expectations clearly and regularly
  • Encouraging students to share any concerns they might have, so you can help them through it
  • Building a support network with administrators, students counselors etc. for those who might need support
  • Using positive reinforcement to encourage attendance

Since the last year, almost all classes have moved online, where attendance tracking is difficult. As chronic absenteeism increased as a result of the pandemic, more and more students were unsupported, even as teachers were growing exhausted. With new tools and automation, teachers can keep a better track of attendance in their classes, and extend support to those who need it.

Accurate attendance data can optimize individual check-ins by identifying students at-risk and differentiating chronic absenteeism from truancy. With these insights, teachers can reduce the long-term negative impact of student absences such as learning loss, academic gap, lack of behavioural skills, and even lowering college grades.