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Chronic Absenteeism in Adult Education

Chronic absenteeism is gaining national attention as we look at this impact on school success for students. Absenteeism is gaining attention of the U.S. Secretary of Education, John B. Kinng, Jr. He states,"Missing school leads to low academic achievement and triggers drop outs. Millions of young people are missing opportunities in postsecondary education, good careers and a chance to experience the American dream." If students struggle with participation in traditional public school, how can we expect these patterns to change in adult education? 

The most recent data is sobering. From the report: 

  • Geography — Chronic absenteeism is prevalent in all parts of the country. 
  • Race & Ethnicity — More than 22 percent of American Indian students were chronically absent in 2013-14, followed by Pacific Islanders, blacks, students of two or more races, Hispanics-Latinos, whites, and Asians.
  • School Level — High school students were absent the most—almost 20 percent—followed by middle school (12 percent) and elementary school students (10 percent).
  • Disability Status — More than 17 percent of students with disabilities were chronically absent compared to 12 percent of students without disabilities.
  • Gender — Roughly 13 percent of both males and females were chronically absent

Chronic absenteeism is different that stopping out /dropping out. Students are missing class each week.

How are we addressing chronic absenteeism in the adult education classroom?

What issues does does chronic absenteeism cause for the teaching / learning experience? 


Kathy_Tracey's picture
One hundred


This article, How to Tackle Student Absenteeism provides a bit of insight into what works for the traditional K-12 environment for increasing attendance, but I think there are some ideas we can modify and integrate into the classroom.

First, the author's research indicates that incentives actually decreases student attendance, while communication which includes the attendance records increases participation. However, this sentence stands out the most: it is cognitively difficult to keep accurate track of absences as they accumulate over time.

What does this mean for our students? What practices have you found that increase attendance? 


Kathy_Tracey's picture
One hundred


The American Institute of Researches new article,Chronic Absence: Busting Myths and Helping Educators Develop More Effective Responses gives us a new lens to relook at the topic of chronic absenteeism. The myths addressed iclude the following: 

  • Myth 1: Invoking legal consequences is an effective response to poor attendance.
  • Myth 2: Attendance is simply a reflection of how much students and families value education.
  • Myth 3: Improving student attendance is beyond educators’ sphere of influence.

Check out the article and let's talk about practical applications of the resources shared in this strand and how we can move this information to practices which increase student retention. 

Kathy Tracey

Jana Harper's picture

Hi Kathy,

I just read both of these article you've posted. (The link for the second one didn't work for me, btw, but it was easy to google it.)  Two ideas really stood out to me:  first, as you pointed out, it's hard to keep track of absences.  We don't notify students of their total days absent, but with some tweaking in our processes this should be fairly easy to do.  And second:  providing comparison data for a "typical" HSE graduate might have the same result as the energy consumption example in the article you posted in March.  I'm talking with my team right now to see if we can establish some new practices based on these ideas.  Thanks for sharing the articles and starting the conversation.  It's something we talk about a lot but haven't found any magic bullet for.  We refer back to the NELRC article on the drivers of persistence every year in our PD (, and are revisiting it again right now in preparation for next semester's PD, so this is great timing.  Thanks again!  I'll be following this thread to see if others start to share their thoughts.

Stephanie Lindberg's picture

Hi all, 

We've worked really hard to increase our attention on attendance. We intentionally discuss attendance and the expectations we have for students in the enrollment process. We tell students our goal is for them to reach at least 80 hours, the time when they are eligible for a TABE post-test, with the expectation that they can be here as long as they need to be to continue to make progress. We do hear students in class commenting on this idea of 80 hours, but we still have high rates of absent students in some classes. We've begun to do weekly meetings where we review class attendance by class and call students who have missed two weeks of class. We expect our instructors to contact these students by email and phone and document any responses. If instructors have not indicated a response, we call these missing students and ask "can we support you to return to class?" Sometimes it's an illness (self or child), sometimes a job change, sometimes some kind of teacher conflict. 

As instructors, we also just try to regularly contact students and try to learn more about the cause of a student's absence. I initiate an email for a student I haven't seen for two class periods and who has not contacted me (this is part of our request to students, that they contact if they will miss class). If I don't hear back, I follow up with a phone call. I think it's important to have that constant contact and the emphasis on how I noticed they were not in class and I missed seeing them, I also want to make sure I ask if the student needs any support. 

By observation, we see more students leave us during the fiscal year transition over summer classes. Some then return the following semester. But still, I see higher rates of absences in different classes. I'm currently teaching two classes, both mornings, and one class with 12 people enrolled has much more consistent attendance than my other class with about 8 enrolled, where I consistently see two to three students present (and the two are usually the same people). I wonder if it has to do with the class being a lower level, but obviously adults have many challenges in attending consistently. 




Susan Finn Miller's picture
One hundred

Thanks for posting these articles, Kathy. Stephanie mentioned staying in touch with learners through calls and emails. I wanted to mention that teachers in our program have found that using WhatsApp has been a highly effective means for staying in touch with learners. This texting app does not affect learners' data plans. Reaching out immediately to students when they miss class has made a big difference in persistence for us.WhatsApp is also a great tool to send assignments and resources to learners.

Cheers, Susan Finn Miller

Moderator, English Language Acquisiition and Teaching & Learning CoP

athomas's picture

Regular contact and communication with students can help reduce absenteeism.  In our ESL, class notifying instructors about time off, sickness, etc is an ongoing practical culturally relevant lesson because many students come from countries where it is not required. It is a must here for schools, medical facilities, and employment to name a few, so the practice of mastering this need starts in our class. It also puts the responsibility of learning in the hands of students. Our students communicate via e mail, text message or Whatts App. They are also encouraged to tell us about or class and lessons. We get more  honest input about class and lessons than a once a year scripted class evaluation. We use the input from students to adjust our teaching and lessons. We can't go by a predetermined set of goals and benchmarks  with adults from language, education, age, and and cultural backgrounds. It is guide but if we cant be flexible to include students' goals there is bound to be conflict and misunderstanding. We found this out years ago when we had students leaving after 6-8 hours of attendance. A person not involved  with the day to day teaching called those students to get an honest opinion. we were very surprised. The students didn't think they were getting the help THEY need; being able to read and write for work. In an ESL class, the primary focus is listening and speaking first and most states and programs have instructional goals geared towards that. It is not the failure of an Instructor that follows the program policy but the conflict with the policy itself.  Regular communication with students helped us to remedy that by focusing on all four areas of communication and providing extra support for the specific  areas of individual student goals.