Are Westchester Children Back in School? A Portrait of Chronic Absence


The US Department of Education released the first national chronic absence data set via the Civil Rights Data Collection (CDRC)  for the 2013-14 school year.  Chronic Absenteeism is an issue that has gained increasing attention these past few years.  We actually wrote a blog post about it two years ago, and we’re happy to note that NY state has started a way for tracking chronic absence in public schools.

The US Department of Education classifies a child as chronically absent if he/she misses fifteen or more school days a year.  In other words, three weeks or more.  Chronic absence takes into account BOTH excused and non-excused absences.

Why is paying attention to Chronic Absenteeism so important?

Research shows that children who are chronically absent report lower reading proficiency levels.  Students who are chronically absent run the danger of being off-track for high school graduation.  High rates of chronic absenteeism often serve as a warning that students on a whole are not engaged in school.

One can argue that consistent school attendance reinforces the positive habits one needs to succeed in career and in life.

Fast Facts about Chronic Absenteeism in Westchester County

We’ve had the opportunity to analyze the CDRC data, and this is what we’ve found:

FACT 1:  19,972 public school children in Westchester missed three or more weeks of school during the school year (13.3%).  That comes out to about 1 in 8 children in Westchester.

FACT 2: The Westchester Chronic Absence rate is on par with the national chronic absence rate at 13%, and is slightly above the NY State Chronic Absence rate at 11%. [SOURCE]

FACT 3:  Almost one out of five public schools in Westchester report Chronic Absence rates higher than 20%.  (55 schools out of 233 reporting Chronic Absence)

FACT 4: Chronic Absence rates vary widely by race.   Black students (25.6%) are chronically absent at a rate 3.5 times higher than white students (7.3%).  Hispanic students (18.4%) are chronically absent at more than twice the rate of white students.

This data raises more questions than it does answers.  Issues such as health, transportation, bullying, and general student disengagement can affect the numbers, but we cannot develop effective solutions unless we are willing to look into the why and the how.  Chronic Absence also seems to demonstrate yet again the racial and geographic disparities that haunt Westchester County.  We’ve already started talking at GPS4Kids about finding the effective solutions that can address the issue.  We need to dive even deeper to find out what is fueling chronic absence in Westchester.

What Does Chronic Absence Look Like in Your District?

We’ve created a Tableau visualization that allows you to view Chronic Absence Rates by School District and Race, click to view it here.

NOTE:  ALL RACES includes Multiracial and Native American Races.  Special thanks to Denise Killeen for building the Tableau Data Visualization.


Preventing Missed Opportunity

Chronic Absence Story Map

US Department of Education: Chronic Absence Data Story

More Information/Research on Chronic Absence can be found at Attendance Works.

GEEK NOTE:  Analysis of CDRC data was primarily done in R.  Code is available upon request.