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North Carolina’s chronic absenteeism rate is 26%, meaning 26% of K-12 students in North Carolina missed 10 percent or more of school days during the 2020-21 school year. In 2017-2018, the year of most recent data for all states, North Carolina’s chronic absenteeism rate was 15%. This placed our state 31st among all states in 2018. Virginia (11%) had the lowest chronic absenteeism rate among southern states; Wyoming had the lowest chronic absenteeism rate nationwide (2%).
By 2030, the goal is to reduce the statewide chronic absenteeism rate to 11%. This goal was set by the myFutureNC Commission.
Being physically present in school is a necessary precursor to learning. Chronic absenteeism in early grades may prevent children from developing the skills they need to succeed in later grades. Research has repeatedly found a “clear and consistent relationship between early attendance and later achievement,” including:
In middle grades, chronically absent students are less likely to be on-track to graduate from high school on time. In fact, improving attendance is a better predictor of high school outcomes than test score improvement.
Once in high school, chronically absent students are much more likely to dropout. The national organization Attendance Works notes that chronic absenteeism disproportionately affects economically-disadvantaged students:
“Children living in poverty are two to three times more likely to be chronically absent—and face the most harm because their community lacks the resources to make up for the lost learning in school. Students from communities of color as well as those with disabilities are disproportionately affected.
This isn’t simply a matter of truancy or skipping school. In fact, many of these absences, especially among our youngest students, are excused. Often absences are tied to health problems, such as asthma, diabetes, and oral and mental health issues. Other barriers including lack of a nearby school bus, a safe route to school or food insecurity make it difficult to go to school every day. In many cases, chronic absence goes unnoticed because schools are counting how many students show up every day rather than examining how many and which students miss so much school that they are falling behind.”
North Carolina needs 218,089 more students to attend school more regularly to meet the statewide goal.
In 2021, North Carolina’s chronic absenteeism rate was 26%, up from 15% in 2018.
Students from rural counties had the highest chronic absenteeism rates in 2021 with rural-metro areas (29%) closely followed by rural-non-metro (28%). Students from suburban areas had the lowest chronic absenteeism rates (25%) and students from urban areas the second lowest (26%).
Chronic absenteeism rates for male students (27%) were higher than rates for female students (23%) in 2021.
Asian students (9%) had the lowest rates of chronic absenteeism and are the only racial group that meet the state goal (11%). White (17%) students had the next lowest rates followed by Multiracial (30%) and Hispanic (33%) students. American Indian students and Black students had the highest rates of chronic absenteeism: 37%.
The detailed North Carolina data on chronic absenteeism comes from the 2020-2021 North Carolina Student Report Cards by the North Carolina Department of Public Instruction. Data on state comparisons comes from the 2017-18 Civil Rights Data Collection by the Office of Civil Rights at the U.S. Department of Education.
The rate of chronic absenteeism is calculated by dividing the number of students reported chronically absent by the total number of students enrolled.
Chronic Absenteeism Rate = (Number of students chronically absent) / (Total number of students enrolled)
All North Carolina public school students.
Students in federal schools, state-operated schools, and other special schools.
If you know of an organization that is working on this topic in NC, please let us know on the feedback form.
Name: Attendance Works
About: Attendance Works is a national initiative that pushes for better policy and practice to improve school attendance.
Name: NC Early Childhood Foundation
About: The mission of the NC Early Childhood Foundation (NCECF) is to “marshal North Carolina’s great people, ideas and achievements to build a foundation of opportunity and success for every child by the end of third grade.” NCECF engages business, faith, law enforcement, and community leaders as early childhood champions to effectively communicate the broad societal impact of policies that affect early development and learning. NCECF leads and supports state and local collaborations – bringing together birth-through-eight health, family support, and education leaders across government, policy, private, nonprofit, philanthropic and research sectors – to advance a shared vision and course of action for maximum impact for children and families. NCECF also provides policymakers, advocates, business leaders and the public with research and analysis about the impact of federal and state birth-to-eight policy and innovations proven to achieve results for young children.
Name: NC School Report Cards
About: North Carolina’s school report cards are an important resource for parents, educators, state leaders, researchers, and others, providing information about school- and district-level data in a number of areas. These include student performance and academic growth, school and student characteristics, and many other details.
Attendance Works. (2016). Key Research: Why Attendance Matters for Achievement and How Interventions Can Help. Retrieved December 16, 2019, from https://awareness.attendanceworks.org/wp-content/uploads/Research2016.pdf
Balfanz, R., Herzog, L., & Mac Iver, D. J. (2007). Preventing Student Disengagement and Keeping Students on the Graduation Path in Urban Middle-Grades Schools: Early Identification and Effective Interventions. Educational psychologist, 42(4), 223–235.
Bauer, L., Liu, P., Schanzenbach, D. W., & Shambaugh, J. (2018). Reducing Chronic Absenteeism under the Every Student Succeeds Act. Washington, DC: The Hamilton Project.
Buehler, M. H., Tapogna, J., & Chang, H. N. (2012). Why Being in School Matters: Chronic Absenteeism in Oregon Public Schools. Attendance Works.
Chang, H. N., Bauer, L., & Byrnes, V. (2018). Data Matters: Using Chronic Absence to Accelerate Action for Student Success – Attendance Works. Attendance Works and Everyone Graduates Center.
Chang, H. N., & Romero, M. (2008). Present, Engaged, and Accounted For: The Critical Importance of Addressing Chronic Absence in the Early Grades. New York: National Center for Children in Poverty.
Ehrlich, S. B., Gwynne, J. A., Pareja, A. S., Allensworth, E. M., Moore, P., Jagesic, S., & Sorice, E. (2014). Preschool Attendance in Chicago Public Schools: Relationships with Learning Outcomes and Reasons for Absences. Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Consortium on Chicago School Research.
Jacobs, B. A., & Lovett, K. (2017, July 27). Chronic absenteeism: An old problem in search of new answers. Retrieved December 17, 2019, from https://www.brookings.edu/research/chronic-absenteeism-an-old-problem-in-search-of-new-answers/
North Carolina Early Childhood Foundation. (2018, February 21). NC State Board of Education Establishes Definition of Chronic Absenteeism. Retrieved December 8, 2019, from https://buildthefoundation.org/2018/02/nc-state-board-of-education-establishes-definition-of-chronic-absenteeism/
U.S. Department of Education. (n.d.). Chronic Absenteeism in the Nation’s Schools: A hidden educational crisis. Retrieved October 1, 2019, from https://www2.ed.gov/datastory/chronicabsenteeism.html
According to NC DPI: “Student chronic absence refers to missing so much school, for any type of absence—excused, unexcused, disciplinary—that a student is at risk of falling behind.”
The U.S. Department of Education maintains a FAQ on Civil Rights Data Collection.