States Look at Chronic Absenteeism as Measure of School Performance

Children can’t perform well in school if they aren’t there. In fact, a May 2017 Policy Update from the National Association of State Boards of Education (NASBE), argues that chronic absenteeism should be considered a primary indicator for low-performing schools. “Chronic absenteeism” is defined as missing 10 percent or more of school days for any reason, excused or unexcused.

According to the update:

  • Children who are chronically absent from preschool, kindergarten, and first grade are much less likely to read at grade level by the third grade.
  • They are then four times more likely than proficient readers to drop out of high school.
  • By high school, irregular attendance is a better predictor of school dropout than test scores.
  • One Utah study showed that students who were chronically absent during just one year between grades 8 and 12 were seven times more likely to drop out of school.

Fortunately, states are paying attention to chronic absenteeism in their ESSA plans. Twelve of the 17 states that submitted ESSA plans in the spring of 2017, plus the District of Columbia, included chronic absenteeism as an indicator for school performance. Another 15 have indicated their intention to include it among indicators in their fall 2017 ESSA plan submissions.

The Policy Update encourages state boards to push for data collection, but to be clear about how many absences will be considered “chronic,” and to be intentional about including both excused and unexcused absences, as well as class time missed because of in-school suspensions, in measures of attendance.  The update notes that students who are low-income, of color, disabled or who have had contact with the criminal justice system are more likely to be chronically absent. In addition, homelessness and ensuing student mobility is also a contributing factor to chronic absenteeism that must be considered in evaluating school performance.

Advocacy & Communication Solutions, LLC (ACS) conducts advocacy and strategic communication for The Ohio 8 Coalition to strengthen the eight largest school districts in Ohio and improve academic performance, increase graduation rates and close the achievement. The Ohio 8 Coalition is a coalition of the state’s eight urban school district superintendents and union presidents. Read The Ohio 8 Coalition case study here.  ACS is also committed to providing updates on ESSA implementation and its impact on students and their families.



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