Journal of Child and Family Studies

, Volume 25, Issue 4, pp 1066–1075 | Cite as

The Heterogeneity of Truancy among Urban Middle School Students: A Latent Class Growth Analysis

  • Chin-Chih Chen
  • Dennis P. Culhane
  • Stephen Metraux
  • Jung Min Park
  • Jessica C. Venable
Original Paper


This longitudinal study explores heterogeneity of middle school students by identifying subgroups of youth characterized by distinct truancy trajectories and by determining disability profiles that distinguish these subgroups. Participants comprised an entire 7th through 9th grade student population, with approximately 58,000 students, in a large urban school district. Latent class growth analysis was used to identify subgroups of truant youth. This analysis yielded five distinct truant subgroups: Very-Low (37 %), Low (43.4 %), Declining (3.3 %), Rising (12.8 %), and Chronic (3.6 %). Further, differential disability profiles were found in each subgroup with the control of demographic characteristics (i.e., gender, race/ethnicity, free/reduced lunch, Limited English Proficiency, grade, and prior school absences), students with serious emotional disturbance and learning disabilities demonstrated amplified risks of being classified in the Chronic or Rising subgroups, which show chronic or incremental upward truant trajectories over time. These findings are discussed in terms of their implications for future research.


Truancy Unexcused absences Urban middle school students Disabilities 


  1. Aud, S., Hussar, W., Johnson, F., Kena, G., Roth, E., Manning, E., Wang, X., and Zhang, J. (2012). The condition of education 2012 (NCES 2012-045). Washington, DC: US Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics. Retrieved June 6, 2013, from
  2. Baker, M. L., Sigmon, J. N., & Nugent, M. E. (2001). Truancy reduction: Keeping students in school. Bulletin of the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention, September 1–15.Google Scholar
  3. Balfanz, R., & Byrnes, V. (2012). Chronic absenteeism: Summarizing what we know from nationally available data. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Center for Social Organization of Schools.Google Scholar
  4. Balfanz, R., Herzog, L., & MacIver, D. (2007). Preventing student disengagement and keeping students on the graduation path in urban middle grade schools: Early identification and effective interventions. Educational Psychologist, 42(4), 223–235.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Bergman, L. R., & Magnusson, D. (1997). A person-oriented approach in research on developmental psychopathology. Development and Psychopathology, 9, 291–319.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  6. Bergman, L. R., & Trost, K. (2006). The person-oriented versus the variable-oriented approach: Are they complementary, opposites, or exploring different worlds? Merrill-Palmer Quarterly, 52, 601–632.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Cadwallader, T., Farmer, T. W., & Cairns, B. D. (2003). The transition to high school: A prodigal analysis of developmental pathways. New Directions in Child and Adolescent Development, 101, 63–74.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Cairns, R. B., & Cairns, B. D. (1994). Lifelines and risks: Pathways of youth in our time. New York, NY: Harvester Wheatsheaf.Google Scholar
  9. Cairns, R. B., & Rodkin, P. C. (1998). Phenomena regained: From configurations to pathways. In R. B. Cairns & L. R. Bergman (Eds.), Methods and models for studying the individual (pp. 245–265). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications Inc.Google Scholar
  10. Chang, H. N., & Romero, M. (2008). Present, engaged, and accounted for: The critical importance of addressing chronic absence in the early grades. Report. New York, NY: National Center for Children in Poverty.Google Scholar
  11. Culhane, D. P., Fantuzzo, J., Rouse, H. L., Tam, V., & Lukens, J. (2010). Connecting the dots: The promise of integrated data systems for policy analysis and systems reform. Intelligence for Social Policy: University of Pennsylvania.Google Scholar
  12. Eaton, D. K., Brener, N., & Kann, L. K. (2008). Associations of health risk behaviors with school absenteeism. Does having permission for the absence make a difference? Journal of School Health, 78, 223–229.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  13. Epstein, J. L., & Sheldon, S. B. (2002). Present and accounted for: Improving student attendance through family and community involvement. Journal of Educational Research, 95, 308–318.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. Estell, D. B., Farmer, T. W., Cairns, R. B., & Cairns, B. D. (2002). Social relations and academic achievement in inner-city early elementary classrooms. International Journal of Behavioral Development, 26(6), 518–528.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. Estell, D. B., Farmer, T. W., Irvin, M. J., Thompson, J. H., Hutchins, B. C., & McDonough, E. M. (2007). Trajectories and transitions: Pathways across middle school and ninth grade achievement and substance use. Journal of Youth and Adolescence, 36, 477–487.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. Estell, D. B., Farmer, T. W., Pearl, R., Van Acker, R., & Rodkin, P. C. (2003). Heterogeneity in the relationship between popularity and aggression: Individual, group, and classroom influences. New Directions for Child and Adolescent Development, 101, 75–85.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  17. Finlay, K. A. (2006). Reengaging youth in school: Evaluation of the truancy reduction demonstration project. Denver, CO: Colorado Foundation for Families and Children.Google Scholar
  18. Fuchs, D., Fuchs, L. S., & Compton, D. L. (2012). Smart RTI: A next-generation approach to multilevel prevention. Exceptional Children, 78(3), 263–279.CrossRefPubMedPubMedCentralGoogle Scholar
  19. Goldstein, J. S., Little, S. G., & Akin-Little, K. A. (2003). Absenteeism: A review of the literature and school psychology’s role. The California School Psychologist, 8, 127–139.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. Gottfried, M. A. (2009). Excused versus unexcused: How student absences in elementary school affect academic achievement. Educational Evaluation and Policy Analysis, 31(4), 392–415.Google Scholar
  21. Gottfried, M. A. (2011). Absent peers in elementary years: The negative classroom effects of unexcused absences on standardized testing outcomes. Teachers College Record, 113(8), 1597–1632.Google Scholar
  22. Hallfors, D., Vevea, J. L., Iritani, B., Cho, H., Khatapoush, S., & Saxe, L. (2002). Truancy, grade point average, and sexual activity: A meta-analysis of risk indicators for youth substance use. Journal of School Health, 72(5), 205–211.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  23. Henry, K. L. (2007). Who’s skipping school: Charactefristics of truants in 8th and 10th grade. Journal of School Health, 77(1), 29–35.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  24. Henry, K. L. (2010). Skipping school and using drugs: A brief report. Drugs: Education, Prevention and Policy, 17(5), 650–657.Google Scholar
  25. Jones, B. L., & Nagin, D. S. (2007). Advances in group-based trajectory modeling and an SAS procedure for estimating them. Sociological Methods and Research, 35, 542–571.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  26. Kearney, C. A. (2008a). An interdisciplinary model of school absenteeism in youth to inform professional practice and public policy. Educational Psychology Review, 20(3), 257–282.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. Kearney, C. A. (2008b). School absenteeism and school refusal behavior in youth: A contemporary review. Clinical Psychology Review, 28(3), 451–471.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  28. Kern, L., & Wehby, J. H. (2014). Using data to intensify behavioral interventions for individual students. Teaching Exceptional Children, 46(4), 45–53.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  29. Lan, W., & Lanthier, R. (2003). Changes in students’ academic performance and perceptions of school and self before dropping out of schools. Journal of Education for Students Placed at Risk, 8(3), 309–332.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  30. Maynard, B. R., Salas-Wright, C. P., Vaughn, M. G., & Peters, K. E. (2012). Who are truant youth? Examining distinctive profiles of truant youth using latent profile analysis. Journal of Youth and Adolescence, 41(12), 1671–1684.CrossRefPubMedPubMedCentralGoogle Scholar
  31. Metraux, S., Garcia, A., Chen, C., Park, Y.-M., & Culhane, D. (2013). Understanding multi-system youth and their patterns of service use. Philadelphia, PA: Stoneleigh Foundation.Google Scholar
  32. Mueller, D., Giacomazzi, A., & Stoddard, C. (2006). Dealing with chronic absenteeism and its related consequences: The process and short term effects of a diversionary juvenile court intervention. Journal of Education for Students Placed at Risk., 11, 199–219.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  33. Nagin, D. S. (2005). Group-based modeling of development. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  34. Nagin, D. S., & Odgers, C. L. (2010). Group-based trajectory modeling in clinical research. Annual Review Clinical Psychology, 6, 109–138.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  35. National Center for Education Statistics. (2012). Indicator 28: Student absenteeism. In The condition of education, 2012 (pp. 72–73, 222–223). (NCES 2012-045). Washington DC: US Department of Education. Retrieved January 31, 2013, from
  36. Newman, L., Davies, E., & Marder, C. (2003). School engagement of youth with disabilities. In National Center for Special Education Research, National Longitudinal Transition Study 2: Achievements of youth with disabilities in secondary school (pp. 3.1–3.14). Retrieved March 25, 2015, from
  37. Pellegrini, D. W. (2007). School non-attendance: Definitions, meanings, responses, interventions. Educational Psychology in Practice, 23(1), 63–77.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  38. Reid, K. (2005). The causes, views and traits of school absenteeism and truancy: An analytical review. Research in Education, 74, 59–82.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  39. Rodríguez, L. F., & Conchas, G. Q. (2009). Preventing truancy and dropout among urban middle school youth understanding community-based action from the student’s perspective. Education and Urban Society, 41(2), 216–247.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  40. Roeser, R. W., & Peck, S. C. (2003). Patterns and pathways of educational achievement across adolescence: A holistic-developmental perspective. New Directions for Child and Adolescent Development, 103, 39–62.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  41. Scanlon, D., & Mellard, D. (2002). Academic and participation profiles of school-age dropouts with and without disabilities. Exceptional Children, 68(2), 239–258.Google Scholar
  42. Schoeneberger, J. A. (2012). Longitudinal attendance patterns: developing high school dropouts. The Clearing House: A Journal of Educational Strategies, Issues and Ideas, 85(1), 7–14.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  43. Sheldon, S. B., & Epstein, J. L. (2004). Getting students to school: Using family and community involvement to reduce chronic absenteeism. School Community Journal, 14, 39–56.Google Scholar
  44. Sinclair, M. F., Christenson, S. L., Evelo, D. L., & Hurley, C. M. (1998). Dropout prevention for youth with disabilities: Efficacy of a sustained school engagement procedure. Exceptional Children, 65, 7–21.Google Scholar
  45. Sinclair, M. F., Christenson, S. L., & Thurlow, M. L. (2005). Promoting school completion of urban secondary youth with emotional or behavioral disabilities. Exceptional Children, 71(4), 465–482.Google Scholar
  46. Spencer, A. M. (2009). School attendance patterns, unmet educational needs, and truancy: A chronological perspective. Remedial and Special Education, 30, 309–319.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  47. Sutphen, R. D., Ford, J. P., & Flaherty, C. (2010). Truancy interventions: A review of the research literature. Research on Social Work Practice, 20(2), 161–171.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  48. Swartout, K. M., & Swartout, A. G. (2012). Shifting perspectives: Applying person-centered analyses to violence research. Psychology of Violence, 2(4), 309–312.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  49. Teasley, M. L. (2004). Absenteeism and truancy: Risk, protection, and best practice implications for school social workers. Children and Schools, 26, 117–126.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  50. Vaughn, M. G., Maynard, B. R., Salas-Wright, C. P., Perron, B. E., & Abdon, A. (2013). Prevalence and correlates of truancy in the US: Results from a national sample. Journal of Adolescence, 36(4), 767–776.CrossRefPubMedPubMedCentralGoogle Scholar
  51. Wagner, M., Marder, C., Blackorby, J., Cameto, R., Newman, L., Levine, P., & Davies-Mercier, E. (with Chorost, M., Garza, N., Guzman, A., & Sumi, C.) (2003). The achievements of youth with disabilities during secondary school. A report from the National Longitudinal Transition Study-2 (NLTS2). Menlo Park, CA: SRI International.
  52. Weitzman, M., et al. (1986). High risk youth and health: the case of excessive school absence. Pediatrics, 78, 313–322.PubMedGoogle Scholar
  53. Zhang, D., Katsiyannis, A., Barrett, D. E., & Willson, V. (2007). Truancy offenders in the juvenile justice system examinations of first and second referrals. Remedial and Special Education, 28(4), 244–256.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media New York 2015

Authors and Affiliations

  • Chin-Chih Chen
    • 1
  • Dennis P. Culhane
    • 2
  • Stephen Metraux
    • 3
  • Jung Min Park
    • 4
  • Jessica C. Venable
    • 1
  1. 1.Virginia Commonwealth UniversityRichmondUSA
  2. 2.University of PennsylvaniaPhiladelphiaUSA
  3. 3.University of the SciencesPhiladelphiaUSA
  4. 4.Seoul National UniversitySeoulSouth Korea

Personalised recommendations