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Reducing Chronic Absence

Empty DesksChronic absence merits careful attention and action since our ability to identify and support chronically absent students and their families has the potential to reduce the achievement gap, turn around under performing schools, and increase students’ readiness for college and careers. Chronic absence is one of the earliest indications we have that students are not on course. By tracking the number of absences a student has, whether they are excused or unexcused, we can take action at a point in time when prevention interventions are most likely to succeed. Multiple years of chronic absence at any point in a child’s career is a red flag for academic trouble.

  • Share Information and Build Awareness

  • Engage & Recognize

  • Use Data and Inform Actions

  • Intervene Early & Provide Support

What is chronic absence all about?

   Does it mean missing lots of school, several days in a row or going back to school after an absence without an excuse? 
Chronic absence is missing 10% or more school days.  All missed days are treated equally.  For the purpose of identifying students who are chronically absent, there is no difference placed on absences with an excuse from absences without an excuse. Also, absences can be spread out throughout the school session and greater attention is not placed on consecutive absence. This approach is used to identify chronically absent students because the fundamental point is that too many days result in missed instruction. 
   Is it more detrimental for students who are older or for younger students?
Chronic absence is detrimental to students of all ages.  For younger students, chronic absence impacts development of skills that are critical for their academic success, such as reading by the third grade.  This can set a trajectory for future school success or failure.  For older students, chronic absence has been shown to be related to leaving school before graduating and poor academic performance.
   What can be done to reduce it?
The issue of chronic absence is solvable. Find every opportunity throughout the school year to share expectations and build a culture of attendance (e.g., open house, posts on school websites).


An important step in reducing chronic absence is to build awareness and help individuals understand what it is; how it affects students; know who is vulnerable (i.e., students in preschool through high school); and realize it can be improved.   Effective awareness strategies combine facts about the issue with actionable steps people can take to adopt behaviors that lead to improvements.

Overview of Chronic Absence 
by Hedy Chang from Attendance Works

Schools that effectively engage students and families recognize that engagement is an all-the-time process. It involves constantly listening to the students, parents and members of the community; building relationships; and finding ways to collaborate and problem solve. When we look at effective approaches to engagement, we realize that how engagement activities are conducted may be as important as or even more important than what is done. It is well understood that positive messaging, not negative, punitive interaction, is critical for effective engagement.


Transitioning to Kindergarten…

Kindergarten Block Mats - Transitioning

  • With the assistance of Ready Freddy, Erie 1 BOCES and Buffalo City School District staff along with community volunteers welcome kindergarteners to their new school, highlighting to families and students that regular attendance is a key component to school success. (post video)

Before school begins…

  • The school breakfast program was expanded as a means of getting students to school each day and on time.
  • Intermural sports were moved to the morning, instead of after school.
  • Schools partner with Youth Bureaus to get rural students rides to school.
  • Schools partner with churches to help students get to school on days when Regents exams are administered.

During the school day…

Bored During the School Day - Every Student Present

  • Each morning adult staff greet and welcome students to school. This is planned and deliberate.
  • Each day, during morning and afternoon announcements, messages are made welcoming students to school, acknowledging them for attending, and expressing excitement at seeing them again the next day. 
  • Attendance is taken accurately and in a caring manner.
  • For older students, class participation is a portion of their grade.
  • Arrangements are made with the local library for overage high school students to use PLATO and complete course requirements for graduation at the library; this reduces the stigma overage students may feel being with other younger students.

After school…

  • Conduct quality after school programs that support students and their families.
  • Require that students attend the regular school day in order to participate in afterschool programs.
  • Staff who are regular-day employees build relationships with students and make them feel valued in both school and after school settings.
  • Share data between schools and afterschool programs to identify children at risk of chronic absence and provide supports.
  • Recruit and enroll students with chronic absence and use positive messages to remind families about the importance of regular school attendance.

Throughout the year…

Teacher and Student Throughout the Year - Every Student Present

  • Welcome, welcome, welcome parents.
  • Use frequent and positive communications with parents to emphasize attendance as a priority in all school events and activities.
  • Recognize families (e.g., flowers, family night gift basket, family tickets to high school play or sport event)
  • Use school events to orient and remind parents about the importance of good attendance; school expectations for student attendance and on-time arrival; and school contact person who can assist them.
  • Recognition programs recognize good attendance and improvement in attendance – not perfection in attendance.
  • What is the rate of chronic absence for the schools in our district and community?
  • Where do we see the highest rates?
  • Are the high rates concentrated in particular schools or grade levels within the district and community?

A key step in reducing chronic absence is to monitor the attendance of each student in a way that allows us to identify who is missing 10 percent of school as well as where this most frequently occurs. Once this information is available, we can then look closer to understand why students are chronically absent. 

The most common means of monitoring attendance is through the average daily attendance rate.  However, this masks the problem of chronic absence and does not inform us regarding which students need additional support.




Chronic Absence

Refers to the portion of students missing 10% of the school days.

Chronic absence allows us to identify students who are absent for any reason, whether excused or unexcused.   These days can be consecutive or not.  This is important because students who miss a couple of days of school each month can be chronically absent.

To reduce chronic absence,
school districts can:

  • Adopt the research-based definition of chronic absence (10% of the school year);
  • Regularly calculate chronic absence rates for schools and grade levels; this information can be used in school improvement plans to build a culture of attendance and determine the most useful early intervention strategies;
  • Generate the list of students who are missing too much school and establish a school and community team to support students and families;
  • Regularly report the chronic absence rates for schools and grades (e.g., through school newsletters, school report cards, school websites, lunch menu, etc.); and   
  • Allow parents to access their child’s attendance data.


Refers only to the number of unexcused absences.

A Focus on Truancy Misses
Chronically Absent Students

Average Daily Attendance Rates Masks Chronic Absence
It is the overall number of days a student misses instruction that influences school success so we need to be concerned about both excused and unexcused absences. Also, truancy becomes more of an issue in upper grades; yet, we need to intervene much earlier to ensure students are on course. We won’t identify students who need support early if we only focus on truancy.

Average Daily Attendance

Refers to the percent of enrolled students
who attend school each day.

Average Daily Attendance Rates
Masks Chronic Absence

Average Daily Attendance Rates Masks Chronic Absence
This could mean that a large number of students were absent for a few days or a few students were absent for a large number of days. Since the average daily attendance rate of most schools is 90% or better, we have no way of identifying the few children who may be missing numerous days and need our support.


Resources to Track Data and Assist At-Risk Students (download PDFs)

Girl with packpackThere are several factors that contribute to chronic absence, including illnesses like asthma; safety concerns (e.g., bullying); school avoidance due to academic failure; transportation problems; and family issues. The diversity of reasons points to the fact that effective solutions require collaborations that include schools, families and various sectors of our communities.

It is important to note that while chronic absence negatively impacts students from all economic groups, children living in poverty are more likely to be chronically absent at a young age because of challenges such as a lack of access to health care, housing insecurity and unreliable transportation. And they are more likely to suffer academically because of those missed days, since their families often lack the resources to make up for lost time.

Once attendance data pinpoint students who are chronically absent, we are able to intervene early, before students require expensive remediation or simply drop out. 

  • The NYC Success Mentor Corps is a research-based, data-driven mentoring model designed to improve attendance, behavior and educational outcomes for at-risk students in low-income communities citywide. Success Mentors are trained to serve as advisors, motivators, connectors, confidence-builders, and early warning systems for chronically absent students at risk of getting off track – both in school and in life. Pilot schools with full-year success mentors outperformed comparison schools and schools citywide.
  • The New York City Department of Education conducts a Resource Mall, usually 8 weeks into the school year.  A letter is sent to parents inviting them to participate in a school activity.  In addition to the activity, a resource mall is set up that provides information from a range of community programs that may help support families (e.g., tutoring services, what else).  Parents are able to learn about services that can support their families and help children be more engaged in school.
  • The Buffalo City School District, in partnership with the Erie 1 BOCES, implemented Ready Freddy, a program designed to support the transition to kindergarten.  The Ready Freddy Kindergarten Club or “K-club” is a component of Ready Freddy.  This is where students and who may have had a high number of absences in preschool and their parents are invited to participate in the K-Club.  The K-Club is typically 5 sessions conducted prior to the start of school.  Lessons are conducted with only the parents, only the children and then jointly with parents and children. All activities are intended to help foster literacy and help children and families be ready for school.
  • Prior to an emphasis on chronic absence, the Positive Behavioral Intervention and Support (PBIS) program in the Buffalo City School District used behavior as a primary means of identifying students whom may benefit from targeted PBIS  involvement.  However, the district now includes chronic absence as an indication that students may benefit from additional supports available through the PBIS.
  • Attendance Check In/Check Out are used each day in the Buffalo City School District.  Check In/Check Out is where each morning students at risk of chronic absence are greeted, acknowledged and supported by a positive adult. At the end of the day, students meet with the same supportive adult for a farewell, processing of the day and encouragement to return the next day.
  • Parent Contact/Calls Home are conducted in the Buffalo city School District when students have been absent 2 or more days each month.  An effort is made to identify the barriers to attendance and to provide assistance to the students and their families.


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