Cumulative Absenteeism Trends in Central Florida, Growing Problem, New Research Reveals

Published by Leita Hermanson on

Research team’s unique analysis reveals an important discovery:
Looking at the cumulative absenteeism trends, in addition to annual trends among high school graduates, reveals a school attendance crisis that is far worse than originally believed.

ORLANDO, Fla., Updated April 30, 2024— Ashton Terry is concerned. The research analyst, former educator, and father of two recently investigated absenteeism rates among students in Central Florida high school graduating classes, spanning from 2017 to 2022. What he found troubled him. According to his team’s research, chronic absenteeism rates in Central Florida are rising, and they are reaching a crisis level.

But there was a missing piece to the story.

Attendance metrics are typically focused on an annual measure, which resets at the beginning of each school year, Terry said. This leaves out a crucial part of the story, with far-reaching impact.

Terry’s team, part of the Central Florida Education Ecosystem Database (CFEED), decided to dig deeper into the data.

Terry’s team took a new approach.  The team made a crucial change in their research, one focused on looking at cumulative chronic absenteeism rates among high school students.

What they discovered was alarming. The cumulative lens revealed that “33% of high school students in Central Florida have missed more than ten days of school in four or more school years, with a 10% increase rising from 23% in 2017 to 33% in 2022,” Terry said. This means that chronic absenteeism is more than an annual problem, a factor that can only be seen when tracking a student’s cumulative attendance level.

Based on CFEED’s calculations, approximately 30,000 out of the 90,000 students who graduated from public schools in Osceola County and Orange County from 2017 to 2022 missed ten or more days of school in at least four school years. Knowing the true extent of the problem can help leaders create interventions for future students.

Additionally, Ashton and the CFEED team discovered that, on average, all students experienced at least one year with ten or more days missed during their K-12 journey.

Terry’s team decided the problem was critical enough they needed to create a new definition for chronic absenteeism, one that provided a clearer picture into the problem, to guide future research and policy change.

They landed on Repetitive Chronic Absenteeism, which is defined as an attendance record where a student misses more than 10 days, within 4 unique school years. This differs from the commonly agreed upon definition, where “Chronic absence” is any school year in which a student was absent for ten or more days in a given academic school year.”

Educators know attendance is a fundamental building block for student success. It is common knowledge that missing school erodes success and, when left unchecked, can lead to higher drop-out rates, lower post-secondary readiness, and less workforce success. Until now, there had been no methods for tracking cumulative absenteeism. Consequently, the commonly agreed upon definition did not reveal the full impact of the issue.

CFEED’s unique view provides a clearer picture into the true extent of student’s long-term absenteeism. Thus, educators have better data to help students avoid the far-reaching impact chronic absenteeism has on readiness for major milestones such as graduation, post-secondary work, and continuous employment.


  • Chronic Absenteeism: The number of students missing 10+ days annually has increased steadily since 2017
  • Repetitive Chronic Absenteeism: The number of students missing 10+ days repeatedly within a 4-year window is increasing
  • Repetitive Chronic Absenteeism showed a 10% increase rising from 23% in 2017 to 33% in 2022.

Terry’s team presented their research to leadership teams at The School District of Osceola County, Helios, and Valencia College, where it has been well received.

Brandon McKelvey, Ph.D., Executive Vice President of Administrative Services at Valencia College, expressed his appreciation for the research, stating, “I am not aware of anything that tracks individual students’ absenteeism over time. This is very interesting and would be a significant contribution to the state.”

CFEED plans to refine this study to contribute to the broader educational landscape in Florida. The timing is good. In January 2024, Florida legislators announced they are drafting a bill to combat chronic absenteeism. According to an article in,  State Rep. Michelle Salzman said lawmakers are working on a bill to track students who are absent, and how often they have missed school and why.

“Basically the bill is creating a database and a dashboard and then requiring a collaborative effort not just with Department of Education but community partners as well so we can try and find the true why and what’s going on with these kids and then address each of those instances individually,” Rep. Salzman said.

Rep. Salzman says the bill would also support schools in creating teams directly responsible for determining why a student is consistently absent.

CFEED’s research and data sharing among Central Florida’s educational institutions aim to identify factors that inform decisions and interventions, enhancing success, outcomes, and opportunities for all students. This theme, illuminated by their unique approach, serves as a crucial call to action to address the growing problem of cumulative absenteeism. Attendance is fundamental or a key building block to academic and life success.

Terry’s interest in conducting the study came after he read a recent Associated Press article, which revealed annual absenteeism rates for all students in Florida jumped from 20% in 2018 to 32% in 2022. Additionally, a Helios Education Foundation study on chronic absenteeism in Arizona schools revealed a rise in absenteeism rates after the pandemic. Both reports ignited Terry’s curiosity to dig into the CFEED data to see if Central Florida schools were grappling with absenteeism, and whether it was mirroring a nationwide trend.

In addition to a straight look at the numbers, the team examined attendance records in the study for many of the student environment dimensions:

  • Impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on year-by-year chronic absenteeism patterns
  • Student demographics: Ethnicity & Gender
  • High school students’ test scores and grades
  • High School academic performance
  • Graduation RateAverage graduation rate for this cohort period (2022) is 89.02% compared to 91.7% for all of Florida in the same period, due in large part to a loosening of graduation requirements due to Covid-19.[1]
  • College enrollment at institutions like Valencia College and the University of Central Florida
  • University MatriculationCFEED’s research showed that students in the study population who enroll in the University of Central Florida, who have fewer absences, have had more than double the matriculation over the past several years. From 2017 to 2022, matriculation has ranged from 7 to 8% for students in the 0-3 years of chronic absences, and from 3 to 4% for students who had absences greater than this.

To learn more about this study and how you might conduct a study for your students please contact the CFEED research team:

Questions about this project’s Data Architecture?




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