Raising the Bar for Consistent School Attendance

By: Office of Elementary and Secondary Education

National and State data sets released over the past several weeks underscore the need for urgent, collective action to improve regular school attendance. While the latest data reflect the 2021-22 school year, when impacts of the pandemic were much more acute, it is important to note that rates of chronic absenteeism – defined as missing at least 10% of school days, or usually around 18 days of school each year – were increasing even before the pandemic. Since chronic absenteeism includes both excused and unexcused absences, multiple interconnected factors may contribute to the challenge; these include transportation barriers, students’ physical and mental health, or housing instability. We must raise the bar for consistent school attendance and work together to combat chronic absenteeism.

Any school time missed means valuable instructional time lost – which grows faster than one might think over time. Indeed, what feels like an isolated day here and there can have tremendous impact on students’ progress towards mastering key concepts that they are expected to learn in a given school year. Additionally, we know that chronic absence can have serious consequences for students’ overall academic success. Research suggests that children who are chronically absent in preschool, kindergarten, and first grade are much less likely to read at grade level by the third grade, making them four-times more likely to drop-out of high school.

Addressing the challenge calls for a mix of strategies to ensure we can more fully support students and families to be present and engaged in a safe, healthy school building.

As the new school year gets underway, the U.S. Department of Education (Department) is redoubling efforts and redeploying resources available to States, districts, schools, communities, and families to combat chronic absenteeism. This includes:

  • Awarding recovery, formula, and discretionary grant funding that can resource interventions to improve student attendance. Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief (ESSER) funds, recurring formula funds such as Title I, Part A; Title IV, Part A; and Title IV, Part B (21st Century Community Learning Centers); and key discretionary grant programs such as Full-Service Community Schools can all be used to support programs designed to increase regular in-school attendance and reduce student absenteeism.
  • Delivering technical assistance through the Student Engagement and Attendance Center (SEAC), a dedicated resource for States and local educational agencies (LEAs) as they work to identify evidence-based practices for reducing rates of chronic absenteeism and promoting regular in-school attendance. SEAC offers peer learning opportunities for State and local leaders, delivers webinars and other trainings featuring nationally recognized content experts, and highlights effective data collection strategies and practices for improving student attendance. Just last month, SEAC launched a three-part Overcoming Data Challenges to Address Chronic Absenteeism series for States. This series will focus on identifying effective, scalable strategies for the collection and use of chronic absenteeism data to improve attendance. In addition, this fall, SEAC will release several attendance-related tools and resources related to mental health, multi-tiered systems of support, equity, and family engagement.  
  • Providing ready access to the latest research and evidence on how interventions help drive student attendance and engagement. Through the Institute of Education Sciences, all States have access to a Regional Education Laboratory (REL) that partners with State and LEA leaders to assess specific interventions and works to widely disseminate examples of effective practices. REL publications regarding student attendance and engagement include Impacts of Home Visits on Students (2021), which evaluated the impacts of District of Columbia Public Schools’ teacher home visits conducted through the Family Engagement Partnership program. The study measured the impact of home visits on the disciplinary incidents and attendance of students in grades 1-5. It found that home visits reduced the likelihood of a student having a disciplinary incident later in that school year and that home visits improved student attendance.

The Department will also highlight examples of effective interventions through its Best Practices Clearinghouse, which allows school leaders to identify programs that are directly relevant to their local context by sorting resources based on grade span, State, student characteristics, and other factors.

Consistent, in-person school attendance is necessary to Raise the Bar for education and achieve every goal we hold for our students, including accelerating academic recovery, supporting postsecondary readiness, and providing well-rounded educational experiences. Through our collective commitment, we’ll ensure every student can succeed, and that our schools continue to recover and thrive. Let’s leverage every resource we can for the success of our students.