The Every Student Succeeds Act of 2015 requires states, for the first time, to report chronic absenteeism rates, shifting how states think about attendance by forcing districts to not let individual students get lost in average daily attendance numbers, District Administration reports.
In light of ESSA, nearly 70% of states now use “chronic absenteeism” metrics in their federally mandated accountability plans as an indicator of success, and researchers and advocates argue that chronic absenteeism can impact literacy, making it harder for students to pass classes and ultimately graduate.
In the 2015-16 school year — the most recent for which federal data is available — roughly 8 million public school students (over 15% of those enrolled in schools) were considered "chronically absent," federally defined as missing 15 days of school in a year.
Under ESSA, many states define "chronic absenteeism" as missing 18 days in a 180-day school year, as noted by District Administration. The greater focus on chronic absenteeism is leading districts across the country to try all sorts of methods to get kids to school, ranging from mailing parents informational letters to offering counseling and support services.
Among specific examples: Meriden Public Schools in Connecticut has administrators and specialists meeting weekly and monitoring attendance, with teams reaching out when a student has missed three days, or immediately if the student is someone who has an issue with chronic absenteeism. At Santa Fe Public Schools in New Mexico, a social worker sometimes gives out free doughnuts to students who arrive before the morning bell, while Alabama's Montgomery Public Schools teamed up with the local prosecutor's office to hire social workers who can work with families. Additionally, when students are truant, their families receive a notice from the prosecutor’s office to attend an "early-warning meeting" at the courthouse.
A big component when reducing absenteeism is building stronger relationships between parents and teachers. A 2017 study from Duke University had elementary school teachers visiting parents at home at the beginning of the school year and then having the teachers follow up on smartphones, resulting in a 10% decrease in absences on average.