Reporting the Impact of Chronic Absenteeism

Posted by Jeff Watson on Dec 19, 2017 12:05:00 PM

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Thanks to ESSA, many districts have begun to track chronic absenteeism closely. Find out how that will contribute to improved outcomes for students, schools, districts, and state levels.


Do you know whether chronic absences is an accountability metric in your state's ESSA reporting plan? Odds are, it is. ESSA requires states to choose a reliable metric for assessing academic progress. Accordingly, 36 states plus Washington D.C. have decided to measure chronic absenteeism. Chronic absenteeism is relatively easy to measure, and we know attendance is a significant factor in student success.


Chronic absenteeism also needs to be reported at the local level because that is where educators will make a difference in students’ lives. Countless studies have shown that there is a strong relationship between attendance and near- and long-term outcomes (e.g., course grades, on-time graduation rates, college readiness and post-secondary success). Equally important, attendance can be influenced. It isn’t a set-in-stone attribute that cannot be changed. It is actionable.


To define the concept broadly, chronic absenteeism occurs when a student misses so much school that they’re at risk of academic failure. Attendance Works defines an absence as being chronic when a student misses 10 percent or more of total class time for any reason, including excused absences and suspensions. Many parents are unaware that missing two days of school a month can make their child chronically absent.


Chronic absenteeism shouldn’t be defined as a yes or no variable. There is a big difference between a student who is ‘just barely’ chronically absent and one who is a ‘high flyer.’ Likewise, there is a big difference between a school with 5% chronically absent student body and one that has 30%. Informing action and building capacity depend on access to timely, accurate, and detailed data. Are some subjects or times of day more likely to have higher absence rates? Does the day of the week matter? How are chronically absent students distributed within the community?


Educators need reporting tools that identify potential problems as soon as possible. Behaviors that lead to chronic absenteeism may develop over months or years, but if educators wait too long before to take action they may miss their best chance for intervention. Annual measures are useful for showing long term trends, but weekly and monthly attendance measures identify students who may be trending downwards.

Reports that combine domains of data facilitate intervention implementation. Consider an example of two related domains: attendance and behavior. If we report these two domains in isolation, we will never see how these measures are related. However, a simple crosstab highlights relationship and guide intervention strategies. Students in the upper right quadrant may benefit from behavior-oriented interventions, whereas students in the lower left quadrant might benefit from attendance-specific interventions. The students in the lower right quadrant likely need multiple interventions for both attendance and behavior. Using this kind of representation can help educators quickly differentiate students based on need so that they can focus on the intervention rather than spend time organizing data in a spreadsheet.


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At Hoonuit, we are excited about recent trends in state accountability plans, and we are even more excited about our partners who are putting detailed data tools in the hands of their administrators and educators. Learn more about Hoonuit’s Early Warning solution here. In the upcoming posts, I will continue to explore chronic absenteeism data and decision making.


[UPDATE] Explore this topic further in my related posts: 

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Topics : Early Warning & Intervention