Dropout Risk Linked to Chronic Absence in Elementary Grades K-3

A recent study, supported by America's Promise Alliance partner Annie E. Casey Foundation, outlines research detailing the consequences associated with chronic absenteeism in grades K-3. The resulting report, Present, Engaged and Accounted for: The Critical Importance of Addressing Chronic Absence in the Early Grades, also highlights possible contributing factors and provides a framework for action to combat the problem.

Data from the research project, analyzed by the National Center for Children in Poverty, points to a number of elevated academic risk factors for chronically absent students. Chronic absentees in kindergarten have the lowest academic performance in first grade, regardless of gender, ethnicity, or socioeconomic status.

In addition, children gain skills valuable to future success during their early elementary school years, and regular attendance is fundamental for acquiring them. If, by third grade, students lack these basic social and academic skills, extra help is often required to catch up, and the risk for these young people eventually dropping out of school rises.

The report indicates that the absentee students are not the only ones affected in environments where chronic absence occurs. When teachers redirect their efforts to help students bridge the gaps that absenteeism creates, the educational experiences of children who consistently attend school suffer as a result.

According to the report, while school improvement and education reform are key issues for not only local communities and states, but also for our nation as whole, little has been done to ensure that schools track and report on levels of chronic early absence. The result for many school districts is a lack of awareness about the degree to which chronic early absence is affecting individual schools and individual students.

With an estimated one in ten chronically absent kindergarten and first grade students across the country, the report also introduces questions to help determine the ways and extent to which families, communities, and the schools themselves are contributing to the problem. Prevention begins with national uniformity – in defining chronic absence and in tracking individual absenteeism. Specific strategies ranging from the universally adaptable to the locally targeted can also work to strengthen communities and families by offering long-term solutions and engaging multiple stakeholders.

Whatever the tactics, the message of the report is clear – parents, educators, administrators, and the community at large must work together to ensure that every child receives the support needed to achieve success. 

About Annie E. Casey Foundation:
Founded in 1948, the primary mission of the Annie E. Casey Foundation is to foster public policies, human-service reforms, and community supports that more effectively meet the needs of today’s vulnerable children and families. In pursuit of this goal, the Foundation makes grants that help states, cities, and neighborhoods fashion more innovative, cost-effective responses to these needs. For more information, visit: