The U.S. Department of Education named increasing student attendance as the top action state, districts and schools can take to address lagging student academic achievement and well-being following the pandemic.
The focus on reducing chronic absenteeism is part of the Improving Student Achievement Agenda, announced by the department and the White House Domestic Policy Council on Jan. 18 The announcement urged adoption of three strategies that work to increase effective time on task: (1) increasing student attendance; (2) providing high-dosage tutoring; and (3) increasing summer learning and extended or afterschool learning time.
Nothing that absenteeism can account for up to 27% and 45% of the test score declines in math and reading, respectively, the announcement includes evidence based strategies that can be used to address each area.
The announcement highlighted research showing that targeted parent and family engagement—such as home visits, the adoption of early warning intervention systems, and the effective use of data and family engagement to identify why a student is absent and what tailored strategy will address the cause—can significantly increase student attendance and impact academic achievement.
The department called for continued and additional actions and investments by state, local and education leaders and partners at all levels, that weave together a cross-sector approach and strong partnerships among education leaders, community organizations, healthcare teams and others to provide the supports students and their families need. A new resource has links to proven, evidence based strategies that stakeholders at all levels can implement.
These approaches are all helpful for developing effective interventions and improving student attendance and engagement. We know that they are most successful when districts and states build a broad system that incorporates a number of interventions that reflect local challenges and conditions. Our Attendance Playbook and guide, developed and updated in 2023 with FutureED, can be used by educators and their teams select prioritize, and implement strategies.
Watch the event
The announcement was fleshed out during an event with the deparment featuring governors of MD, NM, and NJ and state superintendents from the AL, D.C. and CT who shared how they are using state legislation, policy and practice to reduce chronic absence and improve student’s grades.
Education Secretary Miguel Cardona recognized our work done in CT. “You’ve done great work with Attendance Works,” Cardona said to CT’s Commissioner of Education Charlene Tucker-Russell, “and Hedy Chang has to be proud because you’ve really recognized how important it is to address chronic absenteeism.” (Watch the event; move to 32:99 to see the Attendance Works call out).
Funding to reduce chronic absenteeism
The administration is encouraging states to spend the millions of dollars in American Rescue Plan (ARP) funds that have not been claimed, and offered resources to enable these expenditures in the 2024-25 school year. The department issued a letter, Frequently Asked Questions, and template to support states as they continue to use these funds.
In addition to ARP, states can use other federal funding, including Title I and Title IV funding under Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) to support activities to increase attendance, in addition to tutoring, afterschool and summer programs, such as the 21st Century Community Learning Centers that offer student enrichment opportunities during non-school hours.