States will be required to report chronic absenteeism rates for schools, and school districts will be allowed to spend federal dollars on training to reduce absenteeism, under a sweeping education bill signed into law by President Obama on Dec. 10.
The Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), a reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act or No Child Left Behind, represents the first time that federal education law specifically mentions this measure of attendance. Chronic absence differs from truancy in that it tracks both excused and unexcused absences.
Its inclusion reflects the increasing awareness in Washington and across the country that chronic absence is a key indicator for assessing school and student success.
In October, the White House and four federal agencies – Education, Health and Human Services, Housing and Urban Development, and Justice – launched the cross sector Every Student, Every Day initiative with a goal of reducing chronic absenteeism by 10 percent a year. And in spring 2016, the Education Department’s Office of Civil Rights (OCR) will, for the first time, release chronic absence data for schools across the country. The data will show how many students missed 15 days in excused or unexcused absences.
The ESSA measure, crafted by House and Senate negotiators in a conference committee, gives states more power to set their own accountability standards, testing policies and strategies for turning around struggling schools. This Education Week blog post provides lots of helpful detail.
Several states have already begun using chronic absenteeism as an accountability metric. New Jersey, Hawaii and Oregon added the measure through waivers to the prior federal education act. California requires local districts to report on chronic absence in their local funding plans; Connecticut has built it into its school improvement process; and Georgia makes it part of its school climate work.
We hope that more states will take this opportunity to hold schools and districts accountable for chronic absenteeism. The legislation contains two brief, but important mentions of the issue.
In the first instance, chronic absenteeism appears on a list of metrics (page 47) that must be included on report cards that states submit to the federal government. Under the new law’s language, the information must be broken down by various student subgroups, including racial and ethnic identity and disability status, as well as homeless and foster care students. You’ll notice the same section also calls for tracking suspensions and expulsions, which also contribute to school absenteeism. Here’s the language:
- ‘‘(viii) Information submitted by the State educational agency and each local educational agency in the State, in accordance with data collection conducted pursuant to section 203(c)(1) of the Department of Education Organization Act (20 U.S.C. 3413(c)(1)), on—
- ‘‘(I) measures of school quality, climate, and safety, including rates of in-school suspensions, out-of-school suspensions, expulsions, school-related arrests, referrals to law enforcement, chronic absenteeism (including both excused and unexcused absences), incidences of violence, including bullying and harassment; and
In the second instance, chronic absenteeism appears on a list of professional development topics (page 128) for which schools and districts can use federal dollars to provide training under Title II:
- ‘‘(iv) addressing issues related to school conditions for student learning, such as safety, peer interaction, drug and alcohol abuse, and chronic absenteeism;
The measure provides no definition of chronic absence, except to say that it includes excused and unexcused absences. Attendance Works and several states define it as missing 10 percent of the school year, or about 18 days. The new law says that when states submit their report cards, they must use the federal government’s reporting requirements. Here’s the exact language:
- “Information submitted by the State educational agency and each local educational agency in the State, in accordance with data collection conducted pursuant to section 203(c)(1) of the Department of Education Organization Act (20 U.S.C. 3413(c)(1)),”