Kim Gibbons
Associate Director
Center for Applied Research and Educational Improvement (CAREI)
Amber Humm Patnode, Ph.D. Associate Director of Innovation and Outreach CAREI

It is estimated among K-12 students in the United States, roughly 5-7.5 million are chronically absent (i.e. missing 10% or more school days) each year1. Missing 10 percent of instructional time has a significant impact on student outcomes such as math and literacy achievement, on-time graduation, and postsecondary enrollment2. Given these outcomes, 36 states and the District of Columbia have adopted chronic absenteeism as a School Quality or Student Success indicator in their Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) plan.

Minnesota is among the states that selected chronic absenteeism as an ESSA indicator. The Minnesota Department of Education (MDE) identified consistent attendance as a school quality indicator, which is defined as attending more than 90% of school days (MDE, 20183). Since MDE began gathering data on chronic absenteeism in 2011, consistently 12-13% of students in grades 1-12 have been absent for more than 10% of school days (MDE, 20184). Disparities in absenteeism rates are observed by racial and ethnic background, income, and special education status.

Many districts and schools grapple with how to determine the scope of the issue among their students, identify root causes, implement improvement strategies, and evaluate impact. The use of Networked Improvement Communities offers a framework for support. NICs are collaborative research-practice partnerships that function as scientific learning communities where participants come together to understand and identify a problem that is common across settings, identify root causes for the problem, and engage in rapid cycles of design, implementation, testing, and redesign to develop solutions5.

During this school year, the Center for Applied Research and Educational Improvement (CAREI) at the University of Minnesota partnered with nine school districts (including two online schools), to identify chronic absenteeism rates PreK-12 overall and among subgroups. In addition to understanding prevalence rates, participants unpacked root causes for absenteeism related to student or family reasons as well as system contributors at the school, district and county level. The districts and schools were then supported in identifying priorities and developing action plans to address barriers to consistent attendance. Participants had the opportunity to learn from other colleagues about barriers as well as potential strategies to improve attendance within their settings. The districts and schools will test-out the effectiveness of the action plans and interventions during the upcoming school year and plan to share progress during principal meetings.

While chronic absenteeism presents a challenge for educators, it is alterable at the student and system-level when interventions are appropriately targeted and matched to student needs. The support of a networked improvement community provides the perfect environment for educators to determine strategies that will meet student needs.

We anticipate hosting another Attendance/Chronic Absenteeism NIC during the 2019-20 school year. For more information regarding attendance/chronic absenteeism NICs contact Kim Gibbons at

  1. 1. Balfanz, R., & Byrnes, V. (2012). Chronic Absenteeism: Summarizing what we know from nationally available data.Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Center for Social Organization of Schools.
  2. Chang, H. & Romero, M. (2008). Present, engaged and accounted for the critical importance of addressing chronic absence in the early grades. National Center for Children in Poverty (NCCP): The Mailman School of Public Health at Columbia University.
  1. Minnesota Department of Education. (2018). Implementing ESSA: Consistent attendance summary. Retrieved from
  1. Minnesota Department of Education. (2018b). Supporting indicators: Chronic absenteeism. [Interactive data table]. Retrieved from
  1. Bryk, A. S., Gomez, L. M., Grunow, A., & LeMahieu, P. G. (2015).  Learning to improve: How America’s schools can get better at getting better. Cambridge, MA: Harvard Education Press.

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