Attendance Works champions policies at the local, state and federal level that promote taking attendance daily and using multiple measures, including chronic absence, to activate support for students and families and to inform program and policy decisions.

These policies should recognize that absenteeism is a leading indicator of, and can contribute to educational inequity. Research shows the clear benefits of regular school attendance and the high costs related to absenteeism, including students not being able to read by third grade, lower achievement in middle school and dropping out of high school.

Though there are pockets of progress across the United States, adequate and equitable educational opportunity is far from a reality for many students of color, students from low-income families, and other historically underserved students, according to the Learning Policy Institute’s brief The Federal Role in Advancing Education Equity and Excellence. As reflected by high levels of chronic absence, educational inequities continue to persist and disparities in engagement and learning have increased, particularly for Black, Latino/Hispanic, Native American and students with disabilities or living in low-income communities. Analysis of national and California data reveal these absences are affecting achievement. 

While regular attendance does not guarantee learning, when a student misses class they clearly cannot benefit from the instruction offered or the opportunity to engage and develop positive relationships with adults and peers. If a large number of students miss class, it is an indication of challenges that require systemic solutions. Data on attendance and absenteeism are one of the few data points currently available to assess a student's access to education.

Measuring attendance, noticing which students are facing difficulties in showing up for learning, and investing in resources to remove barriers to attendance is more essential than ever. Such policies are paramount to reducing the adverse and disproportionate impacts of the pandemic and other disruptions on particular groups of students and families and ensuring a positive, long-term recovery.

Policy Recommendations

Actionable Data

  • Build Awareness: Educate the school community (staff, students, parents and partners) about chronic absence, what it is and why addressing it matters for ensuring an equal opportunity to learn.

  • Track Daily Attendance: Require recording attendance daily in elementary schools and by class in secondary schools, and differentiating whether absences occur during in-person or any virtual learning in student information systems.

  • Establish a Common Definition of a Day of Attendance: Student attendance should measure exposure to instruction across all modes of learning, including in-person and any virtual learning options. EDFacts supports the following definition: a student counts as present for a full day of instruction if they attend school for at least .5 of the day. (Scroll on this website page and click on FS 195 chronic absenteeism to find guidance and the EDFacts definition).

  • Monitor Chronic Absence: Monitor and publish data on how many students are missing 10% of school for any reason. Share data broken down by school, grade, race/ethnicity, income, home language, disability, foster care, experiencing homelessness, ZIP code and mode of learning. Use legislation to define chronic absence and require public reporting.

  • Invest in Accessible and Usable Data Systems: Ensure the availability of meaningful and actionable attendance metrics that can be collected and analyzed without undue burden to educators.

  • Report on Type of Absences: Publish data broken down by excused, unexcused or suspension and disaggregated by school, grade, race/ethnicity, income, home language, disability, foster care, experiencing homelessness, ZIP code and mode of learning.

  • Expand Metrics for Attendance and Engagement: Explore the adoption of collecting and reporting on metrics to ensure an equal opportunity to learn and attend school. This includes analyzing attendance data in conjunction with data on the percent and number of students enrolled, students with up-to-date contact information and students with or without connectivity (i.e., access to the internet, broadband, computers, tablets). Support analysis of data by school, grade and student group.

Positive Engagement

  • Provide Enriching and Engaging Opportunities for Students: Ensure that students - especially those who are chronically absent - benefit from a whole child approach that includes enrichment activities and addresses the health and educational needs of students.

  • Establish a Multi-Tiered System of Supports: Adopt a multi-tiered approach to reducing student absenteeism that begins with foundational supports, prevention and early intervention.

  • Adopt a Cross-Sector Approach: Forge partnerships with youth-serving systems (education, health, housing, justice, employment, etc.) to effectively deliver a whole child education, positive youth development and workforce readiness.

  • Promote Fair Attendance Practices: Research has found significant disparities in the labeling of absences as unexcused versus excused, as well as which students are suspended from school. Use such data to identify and eliminate inequitable practices before they contribute to disengagement and dropping out of school.

  • Use Alternatives to Legal Action: Adopt a positive, problem-solving and systemic approach to reducing student absenteeism. A punitive approach does not solve barriers to attendance and can be especially harmful when students are already experiencing trauma. Enact legislative changes that eliminate ineffective punitive responses to student absenteeism in truancy laws. Read our blog post.

Adequate and Equitable Resources

  • Invest in Long-Term Recovery: Use chronic absence data along with other indicators to identify where there are instructional losses and to allocate internal resources (experienced teachers, professional development, instructional supports, etc.) as well as external resources (tutoring, expanded learning, community school strategies, technology, health services, etc.) to those in greater need. Build district capacity to sustain reductions in chronic absence. Evaluate the impact of investments in engagement and recovery and sustain strategies proven to be effective.

  • Avoid Funding Cliffs: Introduce policies that protect schools and school districts that have experienced significant drops in enrollment and attendance against major losses in funding. The funding should provide sufficient resources for schools to support students and families.

Updated August 2023