Popular Fifth Indicator: Chronic Absenteeism

By Maya Boddie

A review of 2017 ESSA plans submitted this spring and a preview of states’ fall ESSA plan submissions reveals chronic absenteeism as the most popular fifth indicator.

Out of 17 states that submitted ESSA plans in spring 2017, 12 states and the District of Columbia chose chronic absenteeism as a school quality indicator. Thirteen more states in early May were considering adding chronic absence for their fall state plan submissions.

For Connecticut, chronic absence is one of nine school quality indicators that together receive 35 percent of the weighting in its planned accountability system. The number of chronically absent students in Connecticut has already dropped to 9.6 percent in 2015–16, down from 10.6 percent the year before and a high of 11.5 percent in 2012–13. About 10,000 more students are attending school daily than were four years ago.

New Jersey, in contrast, named chronic absenteeism as its only school quality indicator, counting for 10 percent of an overall score. But state officials are considering adding other measures eventually. The state chose chronic absenteeism based on public input, research showing that addressing it can boost student success, and because an individual school can take steps to reduce it, according to its plan.

In a July 2016 board meeting, Washington State Board discussed including chronic absenteeism in as an indicator of school quality. The state’s latest draft plan includes chronic absenteeism as one of three measures of school quality. With a 16.7 percent absence rate statewide in 2016, Washington had already been taking steps to reduce absences. According to Washington State Board of Education member Connie Fletcher, Washington has undertaken such programs as the Takoma Initiative, which mails notifications to parents on the importance of regular attendance. In addition, the state board’s website includes announcements of events that promote awareness of chronic absenteeism and information on the importance of school attendance.

State boards considering the pros and cons of including chronic absenteeism as the fifth indicator in their state accountability questions should ask questions to ensure it will be a reliable and valid measure fit for their system. One factor states may want to weigh is student mobility. Research indicates, for example, that homeless students change schools more often, are at higher risk of chronic absenteeism, and are more likely to be held back or drop out compared with their peers. If states and districts are not prepared to provide the necessary educational supports for these students, chronic absenteeism will not be a fair measure of school quality.

States are required to report the percentage of students missing 15 or more days to the U.S. Department of Education. Boards in states considering chronic absenteeism as an accountability measure—as well as those who include it only in reporting systems or on school report cards—will want to know how many days a student needs to miss to be considered chronically absent.

Maya Boddie is a former NASBE intern.