Chronic Absenteeism

State Chronic Absenteeism Plan Survey Tool: Share Your Perspective Today

House Bill 4002 (2016) directed the Oregon Department of Education and the Chief Education Office, in cooperation with other state education agencies, Department of Human Services, Oregon Health Authority, Early Learning Division, and community and education stakeholders, to develop a statewide plan to address chronic absences of students in the public schools of the state.

The Legislature has specifically required the following four elements to be included in the plan:

  1. A process for publicly disclosing annual information on chronic absence rates for each school.
  2. Guidance and best practices for all schools and school districts to use to track, monitor and address chronic absences and improve attendance.
  3. A process for identifying schools in need of support to reduce chronic absences and improve attendance.
  4. A description of technical assistance available to schools identified as being in need of support, including technical assistance that will be provided by the department or the office.


This survey is being sent out to “ground test” some of the practices that have been identified based on national and Oregon research and by the members of the HB 4002 Workgroup. This survey is one part of a community and statewide engagement strategy to help refine and prioritize elements of the final plan and consider local context.

The survey will be open until October 14th. Please feel free to share in your networks, and thank you for taking a few minutes to share your voice and perspective.

Oregon Dives Into Solving a Statewide Problem


Source: ECOnorthwest Analysis/ODE Data

Percentage of Students Chronically Absent by Grade Level

Oregon has one of the highest rates of chronic absenteeism in the country, with one in five students routinely missing 10 percent of the school days. In a 180-day school year, that means missing 18 days, or nearly three weeks of school.

With these stark numbers in mind, the Oregon Chief Education Office dove into this topic, producing the 88-page “Chronic Absenteeism Report.”

The report outlined the problem of chronic absenteeism, especially in in Oregon. Then researchers talked with students, families, educators and community organizations to dig to the root of the problem.

“What is unique about this report is that it is a purposeful examination of our system through the eyes and experiences of students most likely to be chronically absent,” it reads. “The voices of these students, and their families, collectively give policy makers and educators a lens to view all of our current assumptions and understandings in a new light.”

A copy of the report is available with this story

The study

Researchers conducted work with 44 focus groups in four categories: parents, students, educators and staff, and members of community organizations. They worked in Bend, Prineville, Madras, Curry County, Hillsboro, Beaverton, Medford, Multnomah County, Salem and the Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation. Researchers also focused on 12 additional focus groups of minorities, and held 14 meetings and interviews with experts.

“The quotes from the students … are particularly poignant and sometimes difficult to read,” the report states. “Their statements, along with those of the parents, present a picture of school that must be understood.”

The report does not specifically attribute quotes, but lists them in bold for greater impact:

“Teachers don’t care about us or our children. They don’t see us as capable. They feel as if our kids won’t make it and the kids know it.”

“My child just needs someone to connect to her everyday (sic). Not much – just a ‘hello’ and ‘goodbye’ and ‘looking forward to seeing you tomorrow’ is enough.”

While most educators automatically see school as a good thing, for some families and students, school is not a positive place.

“The fact is that some students and families may be making an informed choice to miss some school based on previous negative/traumatic experiences,” the report reads.

Those include students who experience racism or are most likely to be disciplined. People of color – including Hispanic, black and Native American – don’t see themselves reflected in their teachers, school staff, or the lessons they learn. Or the students might be working to support their families and care for siblings. All these problems do not equate to meaning the students or families don’t care about school.

“A narrative often emerges in the school that students and families do not value education,” the report says. “This narrative is destructive and has a compounding negative effect on student attendance by creating a less welcoming and more judgmental climate.”

Changing the climate

“Parents are consistent in saying they want a better life for their children and see high school graduation as a key to that better, life,” the report states. “This finding challenges the common perception that when children miss school, it’s a sign that their parents don’t care.”

Based on the interviews with students and families, the report outlines themes, including the importance of relationships and relating lessons to students on a cultural level; and barriers to attendance, such as affordable childcare, living wages and transportation.

From those themes, the report outlined six recommendations.

1. Build culturally responsive practices and school communities

Students and families want personal relationships with their teachers. Teachers need more training on how to interact with students of color, students with disabilities and students in poverty. Families need to feel school is a welcoming place, which will translate to students feeling more comfortable coming to class. When families know teachers really care about their children, that personal one-on-one relationship will foster more reasons for students to continue coming to school.

2. Increase meaningful partnerships between schools and community-based organizations

Chronic absenteeism is not just about one student, one family, or one school. It’s a broader socio-cultural issue extending beyond the campus. Partners can provide wrap-around services to help the whole community know school attendance is important.

“Examples exist across the state where public and private organizations, including social service agencies, community organizations, churches or other community center work together collectively to impact school attendance,” the report states.

3. Increase diversity in the educator workforce

Minority students want to see themselves in the people who are teaching them. Diverse teachers bring an understanding of minority students’ cultural backgrounds and experiences.

“Compared to their white counterparts,” the study states, “minority teachers are more likely to understand many aspects of the lives of minority students.”

4. Conduct deeper studies of attendance initiatives

While this report addresses the issue at the state level, every school, district and community is different. Any “best practices” need to be adjusted to fit the specific culture of each area.

5. Offer engaging content and courses

To make lessons more relevant, teachers should make sure to incorporate perspectives of various cultures. (For example, addressing American history from both the white and Native American perspectives.)

For high school students, classes with a career focus are why some students keep coming to school. “They key idea is that students vote with their feet,” the study states. If the lessons being taught don’t matter, students don’t attend.

6. Eliminate discipline disparities

When students are suspended or expelled, it makes it far more likely they won’t return to school.

“Excluding students from school is a harsh consequence,” the report says. “It results in non-attendance immediately and is a contributing factor in continued absenteeism and/or drop out.” Finding more inclusive ways to discipline students may lessen their departure from school.

State Releases Absenteeism Report Featuring Student and Family Perspectives

May 25, 2016

Media Contact:
Lindsay Moussa, 503-378-2761

State Releases Absenteeism Report Featuring Student and Family Perspectives
Chief Education Officer convenes legislators and cross-sector leaders to discuss shared response to findings 

(Salem, OR)–Today, the Chief Education Office released a report on chronic absenteeism that examines barriers to regular school attendance from the perspective of students and families. The report, created in collaboration with Portland State University and the Coalition of Communities of Color, gathered data through 44 focus groups in seven communities across the State.

The qualitative study resulted in the identification of two overarching themes: a need for culturally responsive practices (including those connected to relationships and school/classroom opportunities), and the importance of addressing systemic barriers (defined as a set of circumstances that affect school and families). In addition to general themes across communities, the study includes a focused analysis of two student groups most affected by chronic absenteeism, students with disabilities and Native American students. Collectively, the themes informed a set of six recommendations for the State and local communities across Oregon.

“This study offers a powerful snapshot of the experiences of students and families in our schools that have contributed to high absenteeism rates,” said Chief Education Officer Lindsey Capps. “The voices in this report, taken in concert with existing research, call us to come together to develop cross-sector solutions to engage students in school, and holistically support families.”

The report is unique to the field and the State. Unlike existing state and national reports, which primarily focus on best practices within districts to improve attendance rates, this report focuses on using student and family voices to identify the root causes that contribute to students being regularly absent. The study intentionally oversampled populations who are most likely to be disengaged from school including tribal students, students with disabilities, communities of color, and students who speak English as a second language.

Chief Education Officer Lindsey Capps will host a report briefing and discussion today to bring leaders together to reflect on how the student and family perspectives offer a lens to inform existing and future efforts to reduce absenteeism, and engage students in their learning. Attendees will include: legislative leaders, education agency leaders and partners, and cross-sector agency leaders representing health and human services.

Chronic absenteeism is linked to critical markers of success in school. Absenteeism as early as sixth grade decreases high school graduation likelihood, and generally chronic absenteeism is also predictive of post-secondary enrollment, and increased involvement with the juvenile justice system. Beyond education, absenteeism also has implications for individuals’ long-term health and wellbeing. Children who do not graduate high school have greater health risks as adults.

Read the Executive Summary.
Read the full report.