What's Your Excuse?: Chronic Absenteeism in a Rural Majority-Minority High School

clasroom with teache and students


Diversity, Inclusive classroom, Absenteeism

District Partner

  • Columbus

Project Duration

From 2017 to 2018

Background and Purpose 

Chronic absenteeism is defined as missing 10% or more of a school year--the equivalent of 18 days--for excused or unexcused reasons. Chronic absenteeism, by definition, includes chronic truancy, which refers to frequent unexcused absences. Chronic absenteeism can be a predictor of academic success, future dropout, and job earning potential. Under guidelines established by the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), states must report chronic absenteeism rates and can receive funding to address the concern. ESSA guidelines also require that, in addition to reporting test scores, states should use a school quality indicator to measure school performance; states may choose to use their chronic absenteeism rates as that indicator.

Iowa is becoming more diverse--Hispanic/Latino students comprised 10% of the state's total preK-12 school population. Data showed high absentee rates among Hispanic high school students nationwide (21%), and the Hispanic/Latino population is growing substantially in the state's rural areas. Thus, this study used a rural high school with a significant Hispanic population as its research site. 

This research project investigated how rural school personnel, often with limited resources and expertise, addressed chronic absenteeism and how collaborative approaches with community organizations are being implemented to reduce chronic absenteeism and improve daily school attendance. This study provided a practical understanding of how schools can find solutions for absenteeism and build coalitions with community organizations to address issues affecting students, including absenteeism. 


  • Even though school, district, and community leaders are committed to reducing chronic absenteeism, they struggle with how to do this effectively, and there are disagreements about how to improve attendance
  • There is a persistent belief that families are the main influence on absenteeism; this contributes to students' viewing attendance as optional
  • There is a deficit perspective placed on low-income families of all races
  • School factors that impact attendance include students' feeling a lack of belonging and a lack of engaging curriculum and teaching strategies. 

Resulting Publications 

Follow-On Grants 


Ain Grooms picture

Grooms, Ain

Assistant Professor, University of Iowa