Writing the Rules – Guidance for NC Leaders on How to Count Chronic Absence

North Carolina is celebrating Attendance Awareness Month. Governor Cooper, the NC General Assembly, the State Board of Education, and others are increasingly noting the importance of regular school attendance for on-track development and third grade reading outcomes. As our state leaders consider how to best support regular school attendance across the state, national organizations Attendance Works and FutureEd are providing some guidance.

Their recent report, Writing the Rules: Ensuring Chronic Absenteeism Data Works for Schools and Students, encourages states and districts to fully understand their chronic absence data, and the drivers behind that data, as they put in place plans to address the issue. Collecting accurate data requires defining clearly and standardizing across the state what it means to be chronically absent. Now that North Carolina has a statewide definition of chronic absence, it’s time to write the rules to make sure every school across the state is counting heads the same way.

The report draws on the latest research on best practices to help state and local policymakers address key data collection and reporting implementation challenges, including how to:

  • Define the portion of the school day that students must attend to be considered present.
  • Determine the days that should be included in—and excluded from—absenteeism counts.
  • Decide the number of days that students must be enrolled in a school in order to be included in absenteeism calculations.
  • Establish rules for withdrawing or disenrolling students.
  • Monitor the accuracy of absenteeism data.
  • Provide schools and the public with timely information.

The report concludes with specific recommendations for states around setting consistent rules and supporting data collection and monitoring, including:

  • Define a day.
  • Define an absence.
  • Define a student.
  • Establish auditing systems.
  • Provide public access to chronic absenteeism records.
  • Train attendance clerks and teachers to record attendance accurately.
  • Equip school and district staff to use chronic absenteeism data.

The NC Pathways to Grade-Level Reading Initiative and the Campaign for Grade-Level Reading have both lifted up regular school attendance as an area of focus for North Carolina. Regular school attendance in the early years puts children on track for becoming proficient readers. The opposite is also true. Chronic absence in kindergarten is associated with lower levels of literacy in first grade and lower likelihood of grade-level reading by the end of third grade. During the 2015/16 school year, more than 64,000 North Carolina elementary school children were chronically absent.