Focus Areas

Success starts with attendance

 Kids can’t learn — and succeed — if they’re not at school.


According to data compiled by Attendance Works:

  • Poor attendance is a national challenge — About one in five students in both fourth and eighth grade reported missing three or more days in the month before the test. If that pattern persisted all year, the students would have missed 27 days or about 15 percent of the school year. About 3 percent of students missed 10 or more days in the prior month, a level of absenteeism associated with the weakest scores.
  • Student attendance matters for academic performance — The association between poor attendance and lower NAEP scores is robust and holds for every state and for each of the 21 urban districts regardless of size, region or composition of the student population.
  • Poor attendance contributes to the achievement gap for students struggling with poverty and from communities of color.

Download — and share — Attendance Works’ printable infographics on who is affected, why it matters and what we can do.



The California Food Policy Advocates have released their newest policy brief, School Breakfast: Reducing Chronic Absenteeism & Supporting Student Success.

Reducing Chronic Absenteeism and Supporting Student Success:

  • School breakfast is linked to an increase in attendance of 1.5 days per student over the course of the school year.
  • Two million low-income children are not reached by school breakfast.
  • Reaching our low-income students with school breakfast could result in big attendance gains for the state and would increase district funding to be re-invested back into the classroom.



AttendanceFlierParents and families are essential partners in promoting good attendance because they have the bottom-line responsibility for making sure their children get to school every day. Just as parents should focus on how their children are performing academically, they have a responsibility to set expectations for good attendance and to monitor their children’s absences, so that missed days don’t add up to academic trouble. This parent handout outlines strategies including:

  • Make getting students to school on time every day a top priority.
  • Alert schools and community agencies to barriers that keep kids from attending class.
  • Ask for and monitor data on chronic absence.
  • Demand action to address systemic barriers that may be causing large numbers of students to miss too much school.

For parents of secondary school students, check out this handout.

Turning Attendance Around

However, Attendance Works also found that there are several ways to turn attendance around:

  • Standard definition — Promote a standard definition in order to calculate chronic absenteeism across districts and states. The definition should clarify that chronic absence includes excused and unexcused absences (truancy), as well as days missed to suspensions or children switching schools. At a minimum, a standard definition should exist for each state so they can compare rates across all of their schools and districts.
  • Attendance tracking — Invest in tracking individual attendance and absences with longitudinal student databases. Most school district data systems include this information, but this Data Quality Campaign brief shows six states do not include it in statewide systems. Support accurate and consistent entry of attendance data.
  • Chronic-absence data — Ensure that reports providing chronic absence data for every district, school, grade and student subgroup are produced and made publicly available through school and district report cards. School districts can also send the data — broken down by grade, school and other indicators — to principals and teachers regularly so that they can address barriers to attendance or reach out to students with high rates of absenteeism.
  • Parent engagement — Provide parents with actionable, real-time data on their children’s attendance, as well as an alert if their children are accruing so many absences — excused and unexcused — that they are academically at risk. Ensure opportunities exist for school staff or community partners to meet with parents to review the data on absenteeism for their children and identify how to work together to improve attendance.
  • Public awareness — Convey why absenteeism matters for doing well in school, graduating from high school and eventually succeeding in the workplace. Encourage schools to promote good attendance for all students with incentives, contests and positive messaging.
  • Strategies for intervening — Help schools and community partners to intervene with chronically absent students through community-wide approaches to health and transportation challenges, as well as personalized outreach. These interventions can use data from the first month of school and from the past year, along with other factors, to identify which students are at risk of chronic absence. The students and their families should be a priority for linking to positive supports that motivate good attendance.
  • Early warning for third-grade retention — Address poor attendance as a red flag that students need extra support to read well by the end of third grade. This is especially important in states with retention policies that hold back struggling third grade readers. As early as kindergarten, schools should look at absenteeism, along with reading assessments, to identify which students need support.
  • Early warning for high-school dropout — Adopt early warning indicator systems that track attendance and other warning signs that students may drop out of high school. As early as middle school, school districts should track absenteeism, as well as course failure and disciplinary action, to determine which students are off track for graduation.
  • Accountability — Build chronic absence into accountability systems so that district and school improvement plans include strategies for nurturing a culture of attendance, partnering with students and families to identify and address causes of absences, and intervening effectively with chronically absent students.
  • Resource allocation — Use chronic absence rates to determine allocation of community
    resources, such as where to place health services, early education and afterschool programs and volunteer tutors. These resources have proven successful in reducing absenteeism.
  • Research — Invest in qualitative and quantitative research to identify what are effective solutions for different racial and ethnic populations and age groups, as well as in different settings such as inner-city neighborhoods and rural communities. While the research shows that absenteeism affects outcomes for students of all backgrounds, it is important to recognize that solutions must be grounded in an understanding of the particular barriers to attendance faced by students and families of different linguistic, cultural, racial and socioeconomic backgrounds as well as the assets different types of families and communities bring to the table.

For more information and to take action at your school, download Attendance Works’ engagement toolkit by clicking the button below. We also suggest reading Attendance Works’ 10 Facts About School Attendance.


Attorney General’s report outlines importance of attendance

California Attorney General Kamala Harris’ report — In School + On Track — cites examples of successful advances in addressing our state’s elementary school attendance crisis, including intervening early, communicating more effectively with parents, addressing discipline policies that disproportionately affect students of color and remove students from the classroom, creating new public-private partnerships to support students and families, and using Local Control and Accountability Plans (LCAPs) to set clear goals to reduce truancy and chronic absenteeism.


Absences Add Up

A campaign by the U.S. Department of Education, Mott Foundation, My Brother’s Keeper and the Ad Council offers facts as well as advice for families and schools seeking to strengthen attendance.