Federal policy plays a key role in creating conditions that reduce chronic absence.

Every Student Succeeds Act

The 2015 Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) reauthorized the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (called the No Child Left Behind Act when it was updated in 2002). ESSA gives states more power to set their own accountability standards within the parameters described in the law. One new requirement is that states define and measure school quality. ESSA also requires states to report chronic absence data and allows federal spending on training to reduce absenteeism.

ESSA gives states the responsibility of choosing at least one indicator, or metric, to measure school quality or student success. These indicators must meet rigorous selection criteria in the law. Chronic absence is one of the few metrics available now to all states and that meets or exceeds the selection criteria. Chronic absence, defined as missing 10 percent of school days within one academic year for any reason, is a powerful early warning predictor of student performance. Information about the scope and scale of chronic absence among students can equip schools—often together with community partners—to help students and families get the additional supports they need to overcome barriers to getting to school. Finally, from a cost standpoint, chronic absence is a measure which school districts must already report to the U.S. Department of Education and is based upon data that they already have. Read our blog and find out more about the attendance provisions in ESSA.

U.S. Department of Education Civil Rights Data Collection

For the first time, the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights collected student absenteeism rates from all public schools and school districts nationwide for the 2013-14 school year. The data show that 6.5 million students, or 13 percent of all students, were chronically absent from schools in 2013-14. Find out more about the Civil Rights Data Collection (CRDC), released in 2016, including a separate data story on chronic absenteeism in our Research section.


  • As this chart shows, 14 out of the 17 officially submitted ESSA plans as of May 2017 included chronic absence or similar attendance measure as an accountability metric.
  • Our brief, Chronic Absence: Our Top Pick for the ESSA School Quality or Student Success Indicator, makes the case that the chronic absence rate, either alone or as a part of an index, is among the best measures that states could choose to fulfill this requirement. As states develop their accountability systems, they should consider combining chronic absence with other measures of engagement and school climate. Considering these options and choosing the most appropriate measures is a time-consuming, time-limited process. The Department of Education has developed a timeline from September 2016 through September 2017 and beyond to support states, education stakeholders and administrators while they develop accountability systems. The Brief includes the timeline that can help when developing plans to comply with the final ESSA requirements. Download the brief.
  • Healthy Schools Campaign and the Alliance for a Healthier Generation have released State ESSA Plans to Support Student Health and Wellness: A Framework for Action. This document focuses on supporting advocates who are interested in working with state-level policymakers to develop state ESSA plans. It provides practical resources and emphasizes several key areas and measures to support student health and wellness.


  • In Lessons for Broadening School Accountability under the Every Student Succeeds Act, the Brookings Institute’s Hamilton Project summarizes lessons learned from the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB) and how they relate to accountability under ESSA, particularly states’ choice for the required new fifth indicator of “student success or school quality.” The strategy paper explains why chronic absenteeism is a good candidate for adoption as the fifth indicator because it is a valuable indicator of “school quality or student success” and performs well with regard to lessons learned under NCLB. The strategy paper includes an interactive map describing the distribution of rates of chronic absenteeism by state.


  • The policy analysis by the Education Commission of the States, Chronic Absenteeism: A key indicator of student success, discusses chronic absenteeism as a key indicator of student success and provides an overview of issues and policies that states are addressing related to attendance guidance, raising public awareness, building better data systems, supporting school improvement and increasing accountability. For an overview, watch this video.