Chronic Absence in the Sacramento City Unified School District

Chronic Absence in the Sacramento City Unified School District

Chronic school absence is associated with a number of poor outcomes for students, schools and communities. Since 2012, CRC-affiliated faculty member Nancy Erbstein and CRC staff (currently Cassie Hartzog) have worked with the Sacramento City Unified School District (SCUSD) and other community groups to understand and address the causes of chronic school absenteeism. Together, they have generated a series of briefs aimed at quantifying and analyzing the problem, and pilot ways to reduce chronic absenteeism in the SCUSD district and beyond. This work has been conducted with generous support from The California Endowment and the Sierra Health Foundation.

Please visit our news announcement of the project featured in California Schools, quarterly magazine.

What does it mean to be a chronically absent student? Chronically absent students are those missing at least 10% of school days in a school year.  Unlike truancy rates, which are based only on unexcused absences, chronic absence rates account for all school absenteeism.  In recent years, scholars have identified chronic absenteeism as a factor associated with poor school performance, the loss of school funding (which, in California, is based on students’ average daily attendance, or ADA), and a variety of other negative outcomes for young people and their communities.  California’s recently adopted Local Control Funding Formula (LCFF) encourages districts to track chronic absence as a metric of pupil engagement and school climate.  For more information on the LCFF.

Tackling chronic absenteeism: Work on this project is ongoing. Results are being reported in phases. 

PHASE I Identified chronic absenteeism patterns in the SCUSD in the 2010-2011 school year in five issue briefs.

PHASE II Examined attendance patterns over a period of 3 school years (2010-2013), and explored district-generated information about student and family experiences of both attendance barriers and motivators. The findings are reported in six briefs.

PHASE III Provided school level data analysis from Chronic Absence Learning Collaborative sites for 2014-2015, to inform 2015-2016 pilot prevention and intervention strategies.

PHASE IV Provided district, school and community recommendations based on 2015-2016 school and district attendance promotion activities and developed a template to support school and district planning.

The template reflects tiered levels of support (universal, strategic, and intensive) and research-based categories of support for school attendance.   Consider using this tool in several stages:

  1. Document existing efforts explicitly focused on attendance monitoring and promotion;
  2. Identify existing resources that could be marshaled to support attendance;
  3. Identify gaps, assess how to fill them and use the assessment to inform school site planning, budgeting, communication with partners and district office feedback;
  4. Use the system documentation to support implementation, reflection, and modification.

PHASE V SCUSD staff and UC Davis researchers partnered in 2016-2017 with twelve schools to explore and address chronic absenteeism through a Chronic Absence Learning Collaborative (CALC).

PHASE VI A new analysis of state data shows that while chronic absence affects nearly all schools in California, it is also heavily concentrated.  Nearly one out of ten traditional public schools in California, or 822 schools, had high levels of chronic absence that affect 20 percent or more of their students.  At such high levels, all students in the classroom are potentially affected when teachers have to deal with the churn of sporadic attendance.

Seize the Data Opportunity in California: Using Chronic Absence to Improve Educational Outcomes, a report by Attendance WorksChildren Now, and the UC Davis Center for Regional Change, shows which schools and counties are heavily affected by chronic absence and offers insights into how to target support to help families and students have an equal opportunity to learn.

"At the end of the day if our children and youth are unable, unsupported, or unwilling to attend school regularly, none of our other investments in student learning will really matter," says Nancy Erbstein, Department of Human Ecology and faculty affiliate for the UC Davis Center for Regional Change.

For more information about this research, please contact Nancy Erbstein at To learn about SCUSD efforts to address chronic absence please contact Ken McPeters at tel. 916-643-7941 or; and Jacqueline Rodriguez 916-643-9141 or

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