Will NC Lead or Lag?

What do 14 of the 17 state Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) plans submitted to the U.S. Department of Education have in common? Chronic absenteeism.

States are recognizing that students will benefit with chronic absenteeism included as a measure in school acceptability systems. Chronic absenteeism meets the rigorous ESSA requirements, serves as an early warning system brings focus and resources to the early grades, and is actionable at the state, district and school levels. Furthermore, every district is already required to collect and report the data to the federal government.

Currently, North Carolina will be an outlier with no plans to address chronic absenteeism. The chart below, developed by Attendance Works, outlines how states are addressing chronic absenteeism to date.

What is Chronic Absence?
Most children miss a few days of school each year without long- term consequences. However, when they are chronically absent, defined as missing 10 percent of school days within one academic year for any reason, their school success is at significant risk.

Why does Chronic Absence Matter?
It is more difficult for children to learn to read and to gain other foundational academic skills when they miss many school days. As early as pre-kindergarten, students who are chronically absent are less likely to read proficiently by the end of third grade and more likely to be retained. Chronically absent kindergartners are less likely to develop the social skills needed to persist in school. The problems multiply when students are chronically absent several years in a row.

Why is Chronic Absence a Critical Indicator to Track?

  • Chronic absence is an early warning indicator. Chronic absence data can reveal that a student needs help long before test scores or grades do. Using chronic absence as a trigger for early interventions could be an important strategy for closing the achievement gap for low-income children and affected racial minorities. 
  • Chronic absence puts focus on the early grades. Since students are not tested until the third grade, many district accountability systems largely ignore the early grades (PK-2). An indicator like chronic absence, which can be measured for all children, shifts some focus to the early grades. Including the early grades in measurements of school quality encourages investment and continuous improvement in early learning.
  • Chronic absence data is actionable to improve student outcomes. States and districts can use chronic absence rates to identify schools and districts that need support and technical assistance. Districts and schools can analyze their chronic absence data, combined with student, parent and/or teacher surveys, and use the results to support parent and teacher engagement. Data can help them better understand students’ barriers to attendance, work with families and community partners to remove those barriers, request resources, and communicate the importance of daily attendance.

What does ESSA Require?
ESSA requires that state accountability systems use multiple data indicators to provide a more whole-child view of school success. States may propose their own indicators, but they must be:

  • The same for all public schools
  • Valid, reliable, and comparable
  • Disaggregated by subgroups

The indicators for elementary schools must measure each of the following:

  • Academic achievement
  • Academic progress
  • Progress in attaining English language proficiency
  • At least one state-selected measure of school quality or student success

Learn more about the state’s ESSA plan here.

Learn more about chronic absenteeism here.