Chronic absenteeism data for schools is about to become much more public. By the end of this month, the Every Student Succeeds Act has required that schools list chronic absenteeism rates on their state report cards.

Many schools across the country have already started to do this, and the work started with states defining at what point absences would be considered a chronic issue. Some states have identified a fixed cap for the number of days of school that a student can miss.

Other states have adopted a percentage-based definition, such as a rule that student cannot miss more than 10 percent of school days each year. By whichever standard you use, there is no debate that chronic absenteeism among students is a growing problem that plagues all schools.

According to this recent Education Week report, 1 in 7 students were identified as chronically absent in the 2015-2016 school year, meaning that they missed fifteen or more days of school, according to a report released by the Attendance Works and Everyone Graduates Center at Johns Hopkins University.

The report’s executive summary discusses the importance of working to find a solution to chronic absenteeism for all students. "Over the past decade, chronic absence has gone from being a virtually unknown concept to a national education metric that provides every school with critical data revealing how many students miss so much school that their academic success is jeopardized. The inclusion of chronic absence in the 2015 Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) was a watershed moment that made this metric an integral component of efforts to help students succeed in school and later in life."

The report identified several key findings. Some of the highlights include:

  1. In 2015-16, nearly 8 million students in the nation were chronically absent, an increase of more than 800,000 students from 2013-14.
  2. The percentage of schools with at least 20 percent or more students chronically absent increased between 2013-14 and 2015-16.
  3. Schools serving children in special education, alternative education and vocational education are much more likely to have extreme levels of chronic absence.
  4. Schools with high levels of poverty are more likely to experience high and extreme chronic absence.

The report went on to suggest that school leaders should tread lightly with this topic. It would be easy to use chronic absence data to blame and penalize families. The data is not meant for that, but rather is meant to stimulate conversations on how school communities can problem-solve the issue by implementing programs, strategies, and initiatives designed to get kids back to school.

Strategies may include advertising campaigns that encourage families to focus on attendance; and use of mentors to work with students who can help them with both academic and social issues.

In a recent Education Dive article, Ohio School Superintendent David Hardy offered school leaders these tips to prevent chronic absenteeism:

  • Communicate attendance expectations
  • Form an attendance team
  • Intervene early
  • Track the positivity ratio (Try to provide students 3 opportunities for positive reinforcement for every 1 negative reinforcement).
  • Create a more positive school culture
  • Make it easy to track and act on real-time data
  • Celebrate successes
  • Provide additional support systems

Overcoming high chronic absenteeism rates can seem like a daunting task. If we as a profession are to make a real dent in this problem, it is going to take our combined efforts by utilizing a variety of resources and strategies available in our communities to help all students be successful.

Kids can’t learn if they can’t or won’t come to school. The ball is in our court as school leaders to make the next move. What are we going to do?