Chronic Absenteeism Affects Thousands of Arizona Children, Puts Them Behind in Academic Careers

09/15/2016, By Valley of the Sun United Way

During National Attendance Awareness Month, Valley of the Sun United Way
Working to Educate Families On Importance of School Attendance

PHOENIX (August 31, 2016) – One of the biggest keys to success in school is perhaps the simplest one — just showing up.

But studies show that 1 in 10 students in early grades are falling into what’s called “Chronic Absenteeism,” when they miss more than 10 percent of school days during the course of an academic year. This kind of absenteeism leads directly to decreased performance in school — and can eventually lead to poor grades and dropping out of school altogether.

September is Attendance Awareness Month nationwide, and Valley of the Sun United Way is working to raise awareness about absenteeism in the early grades by partnering with schools to help engage chronically absent youth. The mantra is easy to remember but very important: “Every kid. Every day. Every school.”

United Way is working to support collaborative efforts toward addressing the underlying causes of local chronic absenteeism, which impacts millions of children throughout the country each year. Part of this effort is offering tool kits to schools with attendance challenges, so they can provide information to parents on why school attendance is so critical.

“A major driver of the problem of chronic absenteeism is poverty,” said Joyce Lopez-Powell, Director of Education with Valley of the Sun United Way. “Parents who leave early for work sometimes don’t follow through with ensuring their kids make it to school. Or if families are moving around a lot because of their housing situation, it can make their children more likely to miss school.

“It’s important that parents understand the importance of doing whatever they can to ensure their children are missing as little school as possible,” Lopez-Powell said. “Just ensuring regular attendance can make a big difference in the trajectory of their children’s academic careers.”

A growing and compelling body of research demonstrates that chronic absence from school — typically defined as missing at least 10 percent of school days in a year (18 days a year or just two days every month) for any reason — can mean a decline in academic performance in the short and long term.

A lesser-known fact is that 1 in 10 kids in kindergarten and first grade are chronically absent — and in some schools it’s as high as 1 in 4.

More facts:

• 1 in 5 lower-income children overall miss too much school and are more likely to suffer academically

• 1 in 4 children who are experiencing homelessness are chronically absent

• 2 in 5 children who are in transient living situations miss too much school when their families move

It’s easy to understand why attendance is key. If children don’t show up for school regularly, they miss out on fundamental reading and math skills. A California study found that children who were chronically absent in kindergarten and first grade were far less likely to read proficiently at the end of third grade. Chronic absenteeism in kindergarten and pre-K can predict lower test scores, poor attendance and retention in later grades, especially if the problem persists for more than a year.

“It may seem okay to miss a day of school here and there, but those absences add up and we are finding out more and more about the academic effect that has on children,” Lopez-Powell said. “If we can help cut chronic absence by partnering with schools and directly working with families to resolve some of the causes, we will be well on our way toward making a big difference in their academic careers.”

One thing any adult at school or at home or a relative in a child’s life can do is show you care – ask them how school is going, tell them you are proud they have good attendance and tell them you care about them. No more than two minutes a day of these messages helps our youth in school attendance.

To learn more about Valley of the Sun United Way’s educational initiatives and programs, visit

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