How Has Attendance in NYC Schools Changed Over Time?

As part of a series examining progress and disparities in New York City schools, this Spotlight post focuses on trends in student attendance. The slides below explore citywide rates of attendance and chronic absenteeism each year between 2000 and 2018.

As seen in Slide 1, average attendance rates increased by about 3 percentage points during this period. This may sound like a small change, but it translates to about five extra days of school per year for every New York City student. Rates of chronic absenteeism—missing more than 10 percent (about 18 days) of the school year—decreased by 8 percentage points during this same time.

Though these improvements are important, disparities—associated with both race/ethnicity and neighborhood poverty level—have persisted. As shown in Slide 2, Asian students have consistently had the lowest chronic absentee rates on average. In 2000, about 15 percent of Asian students were chronically absent, compared with roughly 24 percent of White students and 35 percent of Black and Latino students. By 2018, rates of chronic absenteeism had dropped for all four groups. About 10 percent of Asian students were chronically absent that year, compared to 14 percent of White students, 28 percent of Latino students, and 30 percent of Black students. These numbers reveal that Black and Latino students are more than twice as likely as White and Asian students to be chronically absent.

Our analysis also highlights disparities associated with residential neighborhood. As shown in Slide 3, in 2018, students from neighborhoods with high poverty levels had chronic absentee rates that were about 15 percentage points higher than their peers in neighborhoods with low to moderate poverty. This gap is slightly larger than the gap that existed in 2000. 

These disparities matter in light of extensive research linking attendance and students’ academic outcomes.[1] This research has prompted efforts to improve attendance, in New York City and other districts around the country. Between 2010 and 2013, for example, several truancy reduction programs were enacted across the City. In more recent years, educators, policymakers and researchers have continued working to address chronic absenteeism. It appears that these efforts generally have paid off in the form of improved attendance rates; unfortunately, disparities associated with race and class have barely budged.   

Big Questions

  • What specific policies and practices have been most responsible for the overall improvement in NYC’s attendance rates?
  • Why have disparities associated with race/ethnicity and income been so persistent? What would it take to move the needle on these gaps?
  • To what extent are the attendance disparities seen here being driven by students experiencing homelessness? Previous work by the Research Alliance has shown that homeless students (particularly those shelter students) have very high levels of chronic absenteeism, that these students are also disproportionately Black and Latino, and that they are concentrated in schools in low-income neighborhoods. Could efforts to better support—and specifically to improve the attendance of—homeless students help reduce chronic absenteeism and produce more equitable attendance outcomes?

[1] Hill, K. & Z. Mirakhur (2018). Persisting Students: Exploring the Pathways and Outcomes of Students Who Don’t Graduate in Four Years, But Remain Enrolled in NYC High Schools. New York, NY: Research Alliance for New York City Schools. https://steinhardt.nyu.edu/research_alliance/publications/persisting_students

Romero, M., and Y. Lee (2007). A National Portrait of Chronic Absenteeism in the Early Grades. New York, NY: The National Center for Children in Poverty.

Balfanz, R., & Byrnes, V. (2012) Chronic Absenteeism: Summarizing What We Know From Nationally Available Data. Baltimore, MD: Johns Hopkins University Center for Social Organization of Schools.

What else should we be asking about attendance in NYC schools? Let us know via email.

This post was authored by Chelsea Farley, Kayla Stewart, and James Kemple.

Posted: July 8th, 2019