Early Matters: District & Community Supports

Monitor, Analyze and Disseminate Chronic Absence Data

Building capacity to monitor, analyze and review chronic absence data is essential to improving attendance. Research indicates children are at risk of chronic absence if they were chronically absent the prior year of school or preschool and if they start to miss 10 percent of the school year in the first month of school. A key strategy for improving attendance is to reach out to at risk students and families to build positive and caring relationships and identify and address any barriers to attendance.

The district can also use chronic absence data to detect systemic barriers and solutions. Data broken down by school, grade, classroom, sub-population and neighborhood of residence can help identify if chronic absence is concentrated in particular student populations or grade levels. If a large proportion of a particular student group is affected by chronic absence, systemic barriers (such as poor access to health, mental health or dental care, transportation or safety challenges, unstable housing or lack of full day kindergarten) may be at play. Reducing chronic absence may require programmatic or policy solutions, increased attention to students with disabilities and school-based practices and policies related to in and out-of-school suspension, as well as partnerships with public agencies or non-profit partners. 

On the other hand, if a school, preschool or classroom has low levels of chronic absence despite a high proportion of low-income children, this could indicate that educators are implementing effective strategies to address chronic absence. If further assessment shows this is true, then districts, communities and states can use these examples to inform and inspire adoption of effective approaches to improving attendance.

It has become easier and easier to secure chronic absence data, especially aggregate data which school districts or states are increasingly making public. The Hamilton Project at the Brookings Institution data map makes it easy for anyone to find chronic absence statistics for a school, state or the nation. Find the map here.

Ideas and Resources

Click here to read about how others have developed and shared meaningful reports on chronic absence based upon attendance data.

Ensure data is broken out by grade. High levels of kindergarten chronic absence are easily masked by overall rates of chronic absence for an elementary school given the typically low levels in grades 2nd through 5th. A few states and a growing number of districts now produce reports at the district and school levels. Attendance Works has developed data tools that help districts analyze chronic absence by grade, school and student sub-populations. Find data tools for districts here.

Encourage preschool programs to share chronic absence data along with other markers of child progress and school readiness with elementary schools and district. Such data can help elementary administrators and educators anticipate a need for offering attendance related supports. Some data systems such as COPA, Child Plus and MyHeadStart.com already have chronic absence reports. Agencies can also register here for access to Attendance Works free Preschool Attendance Tracking Tool (PATT).

Understand which data is and is not confidential. Keep in mind data on trends and patterns of chronic absence are not confidential. They can be seen by everyone -- staff, parents and other students -- and used to inform the development of strategies and programs. Confidentiality must be considered and respected when data refers to an individual student or if it is easy to identify a student from the data. In that case, educators cannot share data with people outside of the district unless families have given explicit permission. The U.S. Department of Education has developed a toolkit with guidelines about using and safeguarding data for individual students. Also find principles developed by the Data Quality Campaign.

Send out reports to key stakeholders on a regular basis. Rather than expect stakeholders to look up information, send it out automatically at an appropriate frequency. If the goal is examining trends over time, quarterly or monthly maybe sufficient. If the goal is alerting educators or community partners working directly with children and families to which students are chronically absent, then weekly or biweekly is ideal.

Check data for accuracy before public dissemination and create opportunities for schools and districts to submit corrections. See Writing the Rules for Tracking Chronic Absenteeism , a report co-authored by Attendance Works and FutureEd, for more tips on making sure that data is accurate and useful.

Set up regular meetings with key stakeholders to review aggregate data and discuss its implications. To be actionable, data must be reviewed by stakeholders who can use it to see who is most affected, gain insights about the possible causes and then determine how they can respond based upon those insights. See pages 21 and 22 of the Attendance Works report, Portraits of Change for guidance on convening local stakeholders.

Inspiring Examples

Click here to read about how others have developed and shared meaningful reports on chronic absence based upon attendance data.

Explore Early Matters: Integrating Attendance Into Kindergarten Transition Toolkit