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Chronic Absenteeism in Rhode Island Public Schools: A Crisis in the Making

Colleen Burns Jermain, Johnson & Wales University


Regular school attendance is imperative for students to be successful. Today, many school districts focus on a deeper analysis of attendance data due to rising chronic absenteeism (Chang, 2014). Chronic absenteeism occurs when a student misses 10% or more of days in a school a year (Chang, 2008). Truancy reflects only unexcused days of absence and is a narrower definition. Patterns of chronic absenteeism exist across the country. Since research has begun to study chronic absenteeism, entire schools are now being recognized as chronic absentee schools where almost one third of their student population is chronically absent during the school year (Balfanz, 2014). Chronic absenteeism is an important factor to track and is considered a better indicator for student success than standardized testing (CDC 2016). School districts are now forced to rethink practices, policies, and resources to motivate students, families, and communities to understand the importance of addressing chronic absenteeism and its far-reaching effects. The following research questions guided this study: 1.To what extent is chronic absenteeism occurring in Rhode Island? 2. Is there a significant relationship between a student’s attendance and the following variables: grade level, socio-economic status, ethnicity, adult perceptions of attendance, the demographics of the school district and of the community where the child attends? 3. What do educational, family and community members believe are possible solutions to address chronic absenteeism? This mixed method design study explored chronic absenteeism in Rhode Island and nationwide to gain a better understanding of the underlying causes of chronic absenteeism. A quantitative post hoc data review of student attendance was conducted on Rhode Island school districts for years 2013–2017. The qualitative descriptive studies explored the perceptions of adults regarding chronic absenteeism. Using findings from the study and research a focus group was conducted to triangulate the data. Findings revealed chronic absenteeism is rising everywhere, ethnicity and poverty play a role, and there are inconsistencies between adult perceptions on chronic absenteeism. The findings give better insight to the complexities of chronic absenteeism and will benefit school and state leaders in determining strategies, policies, and practices to end chronic absenteeism.

Subject Area

Educational leadership

Recommended Citation

Burns Jermain, Colleen, "Chronic Absenteeism in Rhode Island Public Schools: A Crisis in the Making" (2018). Dissertation & Theses Collection. AAI10937947.