Defining chronic absence

Under the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), US schools are obliged to evaluate their performance using four academic achievement measures and one non-academic measure. Most states have adopted “chronic absenteeism” as their fifth indicator.

FutureEd, a “think tank” organisation at Georgetown University, has released “Who’s In: Chronic Absenteeism Under the Every Student Succeeds Act”, a report that analyses the 51 state ESSA plans regarding absenteeism and relates them to federal data on chronic absenteeism.

State ESSA plans show that 36 US states and Washington, DC have included chronic absences in their performance indicators. Yet there is no set standard to define chronic absenteeism. Of the 36 states using attendance as a performance indicator, 27 states define chronic absenteeism as missing ten percent of school days; five states inversely require 90% or more attendance, two states require more, and three states define it as missing a set number of days. Most states have not established standards for how many chronically absent pupils a school should have.

The review of federal absence rates shows that chronic absence is more prevalent in high school than in the earlier grades, and more prevalent among pupils from lower socio-economic status. Researchers found that the greatest variance in attendance is not between states or districts, but between schools within the same district. In fact, two-thirds of the variance was among schools in the same district, showing that measuring attendance is a meaningful measure of a school’s performance.

Suggestions to increase attendance include:

  • Establishing a nationwide standard definition for “chronic absence”, expressed as a percentage of the school year.
  • Including all absences, not just unexcused ones, in determining if a pupil has a chronic problem.
  • Establishing, by state, what percentage of chronic absences is too high for their schools and then set a realistic, achievable goal to measure improvement.
  • Giving teachers professional development credit to attend workshops on strategies to improve attendance.

Source: Who’s In: Chronic Absenteeism Under the Every Student Succeeds Act (September 2017), FutureEd, Georgetown University

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