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National Data

According to an analysis of the 2004 Schools and Staffing Survey by the Center for Public Education, 45 percent of teachers report that student absenteeism is a moderate or serious problem.

There is significant evidence identifying attendance as a potent indicator of dropping out of high school as well, Keeping Kids in School.

Data Source

The Center for Public Education used data from the 2004 Schools and Staffing Survey (SASS) to calculate the percent of teachers who report that absenteeism is a moderate or serious problem. The National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) administers the SASS every four years, and the data is available only at the state level. Data: Attendance, Attendance by Poverty Level.


Researchers have recently documented a powerful connection between attendance and achievement. A Minnesota study found that boosting student attendance by as little as 1 percent can dramatically increase minority test scores. But states and districts have had a difficult time collecting accurate absenteeism rates because of varying attendance policies and weak data collection efforts. While the SASS data does not examine actual student attendance rates, it does provide a reliable measure of student absenteeism, offering a state-by-state snapshot of teachers’ perceptions of student attendance.

How to Use the Data

This data is one of the few reliable sources of state-by-state data on school attendance. You can use the information to monitor your local absenteeism rate and see how your school or district compares against its peers.

How the details were measured

The data is presented as the percent of teachers who report that student absenteeism is a moderate or serious problem. Specifically, the SASS survey question asks: To what extent is student absenteeism a problem in this school? Respondents have four potential answers from which to choose, ranging from serious problem to not a problem. The data cannot be broken down by student subgroups.

Limitations of the data

The data has a number of limitations. Most important, it does not look at the actual absenteeism rate. It only measures teachers’ perceptions of student absenteeism. The data is also self-reported; what one teacher believes is a serious problem might not be a problem for all teachers.

Key Questions to Ask

Are absenteeism rates being collected locally?

Some states require schools and districts to collect and publish local absenteeism rates. Washington State, for instance, publishes the unexcused absenteeism rates for its schools and districts on its Web site, and many states use absenteeism as part of their NCLB school ratings formula.

What are the local definitions of attendance?

When examining local absenteeism rates, you should be sure to find out if the data is consistent across schools and districts. Attendance policies often vary across schools and districts, making comparisons unreliable. Some schools, for instance, will allow a family vacation to be an excused absence, while others will not.

Learn More

Under the federal No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB), states must identify schools and districts that are not making Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP). The law requires that AYP be based on student performance and at least one other indicator. For the most part, states have chosen attendance as the additional AYP indicator for their elementary and middle schools. Still, states differ widely in how they calculate attendance under AYP. Some states like Utah count students as having attended school if they are present for more than one period of one day, while others, such as Maryland, require that students be in class for at least half the day. Schools and districts also differ in the way that they implement such policies. For more information on NCLB and attendance, see “OK to be different?” published by Phi Delta Kappan.

Some states and districts have been trying to improve their attendance data. The Minneapolis school district, for instance, has been pushing for stricter enforcement of its attendance policy in order to gather better data—and bolster attendance rates. As part of the effort, the district conducts audits of its schools to assure that the absenteeism policies are consistent, and the district requires students with attendance issues to sign an attendance contract. For more information, see the district’s Attendance page.

There are some other data sources on student attendance. As part of the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), NCES asks fourth- and eighth-grade students about the number of days of school they missed in the previous month. The data can be broken down by race, gender, and student eligibility for free- and reduced-price lunch. This national NAEP attendance data is available on the NAEP Web site. State-by-state NAEP attendance data can be downloaded from the NAEP Data Explorer by visiting the site and then clicking on “Advanced.” Within the advanced module, select a grade and test administration, and then select student factors, academic record, and days absent from school last month.

Additional Resources

Demonstrating success:

Middle colleges make a difference for struggling high school students in Guilford County, N.C.—Disengaged and disconnected students find a way to shine at Guilford County (NC) middle colleges. The middle college environment surrounds these students with positive role models, helps them acclimate to higher standards, and become, once again, engaged in school and learning.