Chronic absenteeism—or missing 10 percent or more of school days for any reason, excused or unexcused—is a proven early warning sign of academic risk. Attendance has serious implications for school performance; students who are chronically absent experience larger gaps in achievement at the elementary, middle, and high school levels and have higher likelihood of dropping out of school. The effects of chronic absenteeism extend into adulthood, affecting job security, socioeconomic status, and health outcomes, leading to a population that is less educated and less healthy (Allensworth & Easton, 2007; Balfanz & Byrnes, 2012; Connolly & Olson, 2012).
Now more than ever, school health providers, who work at the intersection of health and education, can play a critical role in reducing chronic absence. Under the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), 36 states plus the District of Columbia have elected to use chronic student absence or related attendance measure as one of their required school quality or school success metrics. This is a major shift from the past when schools primarily paid attention to average daily attendance (how many students show up every day) or truancy (unexcused absences). The widespread adoption of chronic absence helps schools shift from a punitive focus on absenteeism to a new paradigm that promotes noticing and seeking to understand the underlying reasons that students are missing too much school for any reasons, including health related causes for absenteeism.