NC State Board of Education Establishes Definition of Chronic Absenteeism

The NC State Board of Education has established a standard definition of chronic absenteeism to be used in public schools across the state. The Board’s definition is consistent with guidance shared by the North Carolina Early Childhood Foundation (NCECF) and the national organization Attendance Works to define chronic absence as missing more than 10 percent of enrolled school days in a given year.

The new Board policy, given final approval this month, defines a “student chronic absentee” as a student who “is enrolled in a North Carolina public school for at least 10 school days at any time during the school year, and whose total number of absences – excused or unexcused – is equal to or greater than 10 percent of the total number of days that such student has been enrolled at such school during such school year.”

During the discussion, the Board put forward several reasons to pay attention to chronic absence that have been highlighted in the past year by the NC Early Childhood Foundation, including:

  • Chronic absenteeism is an effective and actionable measure.
  • It serves as an early warning indicator for principals and other school staff to identify students who are at risk of adverse outcomes due to absences from school and to intervene to reduce or eliminate absences.
  • Aggregate reports at school and district levels that measure the percentages of students chronically absent from school can help identify schools and districts that would benefit most from additional support and resources.

In September 2017, NCECF released a report outlining the state of chronic absenteeism policies and practices in North Carolina, AttendaNCe Counts. The report included:

  • Why chronic absence matters for third grade reading and why addressing it is an actionable strategy for improving literacy outcomes
  • Why it is an effective measure of school quality and student success
  • Chronic absence rates in North Carolina, including data for each school district, disaggregated by race/ethnicity and gender
  • The current state-level landscape in North Carolina around nine key “readiness” factors that can set the stage for an active campaign to reduce chronic absence
  • Recommendations for next steps, including creating a standard definition for chronic absence.

In terms of next steps, the Board has been advised to collect, analyze and use accurate and consistent chronic absence data so that:

  • Schools are able to identify at-risk students and trends, and
  • To inform when and how to effectively and efficiently target school and community resources.

Regular school attendance is one of the three pillars of the Campaign for Grade Level Reading initiative, along with school readiness and summer learning. The Pathways to Grade-Level Reading Initiative has chosen regular school attendance as one of three areas of focus for action first in the effort to improve third-grade reading proficiency in the state. The other two areas selected by Pathways are children’s social-emotional health and high-quality birth-through-age-eight care and education.

NCECF is the state lead for the local Campaign for Grade Level Reading programs. Pathways to Grade Level Reading is also an initiative of the NC Early Childhood Foundation, in collaboration with the North Carolina Partnership for Children, Inc. (Smart Start), NC Child and BEST NC.

NCECF is planning several activities in 2018 to raise awareness about chronic absence and implementing strategies for change, including:

  • Developing and disseminating case studies on local NC effortsto improve attendance
  • Creating a community toolkit to be used for Attendance Awareness Month
  • Releasing Pathways Design Team recommendations on strategies to improve regular attendance