Empty Classroom

Published: October 25, 2022

Chronic absenteeism, typically defined as missing more than 10% of school days, had a moment during the 2020-21 and 2021-22 school years. 

More than 1 in 5 high school students and more than 1 in 10 elementary students in the US, were chronically absent way back in 2015, and some estimate that absenteeism rates doubled during the pandemic. Even in schools without high chronic absenteeism issues prior to Covid, the 10-day mandatory isolation/quarantine periods during the pandemic meant students spent a lot of time out of school buildings, even when schools were open.

Covid notwithstanding, absenteeism is, and will always be, an issue that school administrators and teachers have to deal with. Whether it’s from truancy (unexcused) or excused absences, absenteeism is an age-old problem. There will always be reasons that students miss school, whether from environmental factors—forest fires, hurricanes, etc.---or more mundane personal reasons like orthodontist appointments. 

Nevertheless, absenteeism is worth talking more about, as it is especially detrimental to learning. When students are absent, they miss instructional time, of course, but also experience disruptions to important things like relationship-building with friends and teachers.

Students also tend to lose track of homework when they have unplanned absences. Teachers, meanwhile, are expected to keep the balls in the air when students miss class, adding more work to an already unsustainable load.

Here are three objectives to focus on when it comes to combatting chronic absenteeism: 

  1. Tackle absenteeism’s underlying causes, such as transportation issues, to prevent absenteeism in the first place. 
  2. Get students who are absent to come back to school.
  3. Support students who do experience absenteeism to stay on track with their learning. 

Software solutions

For objectives #1 and #2, new(ish) absence management software options, such as Remind, All Here, and Everyday Labs that nudge students (and their guardians) to come to school, can be effective. Administrators can use these tools to reduce barriers to school attendance and get students back on campus. 

For objective #3, teachers have many edtech tools at their disposal to identify gaps caused by missing school days. But a more interesting and possibly more powerful tool, often ignored in conversations about absenteeism, is the learning management system (LMS). 

Because LMSs can be accessed from anywhere and anytime (as long as a student has a device that's connected to the internet), missed classwork can be discovered at a later time. The LMS is the perfect way for students who have not been physically present to know what homework they missed. And if teachers also create assignments in the LMS for in-class work, students who were not present in class can complete that work as well, thereby cutting down on lost instructional time. An online assignment is obviously not a perfect substitute for the classroom, but it’s a lot better than missing out on that work completely. 

Schoolytics is particularly helpful for teachers who want to manage missing assignments for students. The student groups functionality is available for tracking chronically absent students, and the missing assignment email/stream reminders for students are super handy. And the late work report helps teachers see assignments that were handed in after the due date, a natural consequence when students aren’t in class to submit work on time. 

Reducing the negative consequences of absenteeism is really important for all students; especially for students living in poverty, and those in under-resourced schools who are disproportionately affected by absenteeism. Helping students to remain in touch with their teacher and schoolwork via the LMS is one way to improve outcomes and equity at the same time.