Federal Policy

New: Policy Brief

The U.S. Education Department’s decision to grant waivers from the No Child Left Behind Act gives states an unprecedented opportunity to decide how to assess their own schools. States should go beyond test scores and graduation rates to include early warning indicators of academic risk, particularly chronic absence.

Over the years, the influence and impact of federal policy on public education has grown. The Obama administration, in particular, has used the carrot of federal funding to encourage particular policies and practices in states, districts and schools.

To date, however, federal policy regarding attendance remains very limited.

Current Policy
No Child Left Behind, the current federal law that could soon be reauthorized, requires states to:

  • Collect data on truancy and authorizes each state to establish its own definition of truancy.
  • Use graduation rates as a measure of adequate yearly progress for high schools; it allows states to determine what should be the secondary measure (aside from test scores) for assessing elementary and middle schools. A 2005 analysis by the Education Commission of the States, found 37 states used attendance as this indicator. But that is typically an aggregate, school-wide measure rather than an indicator tracking prevalence of chronic absence.
  • Create longitudinal student data systems, but does not require the inclusion of attendance or absences as data elements. Nor is the inclusion of attendance in these data systems required by more recent legislation such as the America Competes Act, Race to the Top or School Improvement grants. Adhering to the guidance of the Data Quality Campaign (DQC), these grant programs require longitudinal data systems to track program participation and enrollment but not attendance. This indicator was left out because the initial developers of the 10 Essential Elements promoted by the DQC thought it would require daily entry of attendance into state data systems and as a result be too expensive and onerous to include. The DQC’s latest survey shows that all but five states collect enough attendance data to conduct thorough chronic absence analyses of their students and school districts. The exceptions are California, Illinois, New York, New Jersey and Colorado. Twelve states collect the data in real time.

Grant Programs

Several new federal grant programs are funding education reform and recommend a data based approach to improving achievement and measuring progress. Although chronic absence is not currently a required element, it can be a key part of these applications which would then allow states and localities to use these resources to support work on this issue.

  • School Improvement Grants: Attendance Works and its partner in California, the Chronic Absence and Attendance Partnership, has developed a toolkit for applications. Download the SIG Toolkit.
  • Full Service Community Schools Grant: These grants are designed to help public schools function as full-service community schools with a broad array of social and health services and to support state collaboratives developing such programs. Go here for more information.
  • Race to the Top: With the focus on data-driven results, these grants are a natural fit with chronic absence tracking. A coalition of advocates in California wrote a letter urging the state to incorporate chronic absence into its application. This can be a template for other states.   Read Race to the Top letter here