California: Use Data to Determine Need for Additional Support

While a strong school-wide culture of attendance is an essential ingredient of academic success in all schools, it may not always be sufficient. Some students, especially those who are chronically absent, may need a higher level of intervention. The good news is chronic absence can be turned around if data are used to identify and connect at-risk students—as early as possible—to positive, engaging supports that motivate them to attend school and address challenging barriers.

Attendance Works California Use Data to Determine Need for Additional Support

Obtain your school’s chronic absence data

In California, your district is required by the Local Control Funding Formula to calculate levels of chronic absence (defined as missing 10 percent or more of the school year) for the district as a whole and for each school as a measure of accountability for pupil engagement. However, the extent to which this data is easily available varies by school district. Some districts produce and regularly distribute reports on the level of chronic absence to site administrators, while other districts have yet to analyze their attendance data to determine chronic absence rates.

Chronic absence data for your school site should be produced and made available to you by your district. If it has not been provided, ask your district for data showing the extent to which chronic absence is a problem for your entire school as well as for specific grades and student populations.

The data should illustrate whether chronic absence is a problem for your entire school as well as for specific grades and student populations. If chronic absence is very high in a particular grade, principals should review levels by classroom if the appropriate data is available.

Make sure your district is calculating chronic absence (missing at least 10 percent of the school year for any reason) in addition to truancy (defined in California as missing three days without a valid excuse or being late to class three times by more than 30 minutes) and average daily attendance. (See definitions box) Keep in mind that chronic absence is a relatively new attendance metric, introduced as key concept only in the past few years. Many school districts are still learning about the concept and confuse it with truancy, which they have tracked for decades. Chronic absence data can help you identify which students are missing so much school for any reason (excused and unexcused absences and suspensions), while truancy is an indication that students are missing school without permission.   Average daily attendance, another commonly monitored metric, examines how many students typically show up each day. All three metrics are useful to examine but they answer different questions.

If your district does not currently have the capacity to calculate chronic absence, encourage your central office to use the free attendance tracking tools available from Attendance Works. These tools track attendance trends related to:

  • Satisfactory attendance (missing less than 5 percent of school)

  • At-risk attendance (missing 6-9 percent)

  • Moderate chronic absence (missing 10-19 percent)

  • Severe chronic absence (missing 20 percent or more)

Attendance Works now offers free data tools designed specifically for California schools and school districts to track chronic absence. The tools, self-calculating Excel spreadsheets, include California’s unique transitional kindergarten (TK) as a grade in school and reflect the state’s definition of truancy.

Used in combination or as separate modules, the California versions of the district and school chronic absence tracking tools (CalDATT and CalSATT) make tracking chronic absence a snap. In addition, the new California Truancy Supplement offers insights into the relationship among chronic absence, suspension and truancy as defined by California law.

Review your school’s attendance data

Once the data report is available, spend time reviewing the results. If possible, share with school staff or community partners who can help interpret what it means. These could include health care providers, afterschool programs, social workers or housing authority officials who work with children at risk of chronic absence.

Key questions include:

  • Does the data look accurate to you? If not, what might be causing problems with attendance data entry? What improvements might be needed to increase data accuracy?

  • Is chronic absence a problem? Is it getting worse or better?

  • Is chronic absence concentrated among particular students?

  • Is it higher or lower in particular grades?

  • Do some student populations have higher or lower levels of chronic absence?

  • What might explain some of these differences? What additional information do you need to identify barriers or effective strategies in place?

  • Does the level of need (reflected in the severity of absences) compare to availability of supports to improve attendance in your school and district?

Use data to provide additional supports for chronically absent students

Absenteeism records from past years and the first month of the current school year can identify students at risk of chronic absence and can be used to connect these students to a higher tier of support. Chronic absence can be a sign that the family needs help to overcome a particular attendance challenge such as health, transportation or housing. Extra support typically involves helping students and their families build strong, positive and caring relationships with school staff and other students; connect to engaging learning activities; and overcome any barrier to attendance.

When action is taken early in the school year, schools can help students, with their family’s support, start the year with good attendance, rather than find themselves struggling because they have fallen behind as a result of too many absences. For more tools and resources see this toolkit from Attendance Works:

If large numbers of students are affected by chronic absence, systemic barriers may be at play. Identifying them can lead to the appropriate solutions—for example, establishing closets with school uniforms, improving access to health care, developing safe walking routes, tutoring, mentoring, and offering morning or afterschool care.

Research demonstrates that students who are eligible for free and reduced meals are three to four times more likely to be chronically absent. According to the 2014 In School/On Track report produced by the Office of the Attorney General in California 1 in 10 low-income students in the state is chronically absent, and 90 percent of the students with severe levels of absenteeism are low-income. Challenges associated with limited resources contribute directly to whether students attend regularly. Keeping these barriers is important to addressing widespread chronic absence and generally requires involving city agency, nonprofit and community partners.

Establish data-informed goals and monitor progress

A common saying is: What gets measured is what gets done. This is particularly true with chronic absence. It isn’t enough to say that attendance is a priority. An essential ingredient for change is making shared accountability for reducing chronic absence a key component in how assess your work as a school.

Principals can create accountability by visibly recognizing contributions to improving attendance as well as by building metrics into school-wide and individual performance measures.

  • Set annual attendance goals with your teaching staff and measure your progress along the way.

  • Ensure that attendance goals reflect multiple attendance measures: improvement in average daily attendance, a reduction in the percentage of students chronically absent (absent more than 10 percent), an increase in the number of students with satisfactory attendance (attending more than 95 percent) and possibly reduced truancy.

  • Establish goals that are school-wide and group-specific based on needs, such as reducing chronic absence among special education students or increasing regular attendance among kindergartners.

  • Share individual classroom and school-wide attendance data with your teachers on a regular basis. Recognize teachers and staff members who are making significant contributions toward achieving annual attendance goals.

With the support of your staff, in a relatively short time you can put in place the practices that research and experience from across the community have shown make a difference.

Attendance Definitions in California
  • Chronic Absence: A student absent on 10 percent or more of the days, calculated by dividing total absences by the total number of school days the student is enrolled during the school year. Unlike truancy, this measure includes all absences—including excused absences—and assumes that excessive absence impedes learning. (Educational Code Section 60901[c][1])

  • Average Daily Attendance (ADA): This is commonly calculated by dividing the number of pupils present by the total number of pupils enrolled. However, in California, ADA also refers to the formula used to determine how much funding a school district should receive from the state. In this case, total ADA is defined as the total days of student attendance divided by the total days of instruction during which the student is enrolled. 

  • Truant: Any pupil subject to compulsory full-time education or compulsory continuation education who is absent from school without a valid excuse three full days, or tardy or absent for more than any 30-minute period during the school day without a valid excuse on three occasions in one school year, or any combination thereof, is a truant and shall be reported to the attendance supervisor or the superintendent of the school district. (EC Section 48260[a])

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