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Student and Family Support (SFS)

Student Attendance and Chronic Absenteeism

With the passage of the federal Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), Congress has maintained the focus on advancing equity and excellence for all students, particularly disadvantaged and high need students. Guided by ESSA, in Massachusetts the current accountability system identifies how a district or school is doing through the following measures:

  • Achievement
  • Student progress or growth
  • High school completion
  • Progress towards English proficiency for English learners
  • Chronic absenteeism
  • Advanced coursework completion

A primary focus of the Massachusetts ESSA plan is to strengthen the quality and breadth of the instructional program all students experience in every school in the Commonwealth to ensure students graduate prepared for the rigors of post-secondary education, training and work. However, to benefit from this effort students must be present and engaged in learning.

With the addition of Chronic Absenteeism as an accountability measure it is helpful to understand what it is and why it is important. Massachusetts defines Chronically Absent as missing at least 10% of days enrolled (e.g., 18 days absent if enrolled for 180) regardless of whether the absences are considered excused, unexcused and/or for disciplinary reasons. Being chronically absent can have a significant impact on a student's ability to read at grade level, perform academically, and graduate on time.

The typical student in Massachusetts misses 9 days of school (5%) each year.
However, 12.8% of MA students miss 10% or more days of school each year.

12.8% across all grade levels 2017-18

Department Initiatives:

To help prepare all students for success after high school, one of the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (Department's) strategic priorities is focused on supporting social-emotional learning, health, and safety Download Word Document. The primary goal is to promote systems and strategies that foster safe, positive, healthy, culturally-responsive, and inclusive learning environments that address students' varied needs and improve educational outcomes for all. Efforts in this direction can help students be more engaged in school (e.g., academically, emotionally, socially, and physically), can help address barriers to being in school (e.g., by providing supports where needed), and can help increase attendance and decrease chronic absenteeism (by helping give more reasons to be in school, and help decrease challenges to coming to school). The Department infuses efforts that directly or indirectly help increase attendance throughout numerous initiatives across offices. A few examples are offered below.

Rethinking Discipline Initiative: Suspending students from school for non-violent offenses, and particularly suspending them repeatedly, takes them out of the classroom and may have limited effectiveness in improving their behavior and performance, and cause the students to fall behind academically. School leaders in Massachusetts and across the U.S. have found that by improving school climate through positive behavioral interventions, supports, and strategies, including restorative practices and conflict resolution, they can not only reduce suspensions but also promote greater school safety, discipline, and academic success. Informed by state and federal laws and regulations, this initiative brings together schools/districts identified based on high rates of suspension and/or expulsion (for long-term suspensions or disparate rates related to race/ethnicity or disability status) and offers a professional learning network (PLN) where educators and administrators can learn with and from each other.

Positive Behavior Intervention and Supports (PBIS) and other Multi-Tiered Systems of Support (MTSS) Academies: supports district and school based teams with the implementation of school-wide PBIS and with district-wide MTSS efforts. Implementing MTSS and components such as PBIS can help establish a strong school and district culture and systematic use of data that supports all students and may improve engagement and attendance of students.

Systemic Student Support (S3) Academy: Based on a needs assessment process related to effective practices for integrated student supports, schools identify focus areas for strengthening student support systems. Schools may identify chronic absenteeism as a focus area.


Powerpoint presentations from national researchers at the Symposium on Attendance and Absenteeism held August 7, 2018 at The Boston Foundation:

Download PowerPoint File
Introduction to Attendance and Absenteeism in Massachusetts
Carrie Conaway, Chief Strategy and Research Officer, Department of Elementary and Secondary Education

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What Can Schools Do To Improve Student Attendance?
Stacy B. Ehrlich, Ph.D, NORC at the University of Chicago

Download PowerPoint File
Addressing Absenteeism: 5 Myths About School Attendance
Ethan L. Hutt, University of Maryland Cottage Park and Michael Gottfried, University of California Santa Barbara

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Working Together: The Promise and Potential Partnerships to Address Chronic Absenteeism
Joshua Childs, Assistant Professor, The University of Texas at Austin

Download PowerPoint File
Connect-Text: Text Message Communication to Improve Kindergarten Attendance
Lindsay C. Page, University of Pittsburg and Ken Smythe-Leistico Seton Hall University

Download PowerPoint File
What Explains Chronic Absenteeism? Understanding the roles of children, families and schools
Kevin Gee, Associate Professor, University of California Davis

The Hamilton Project at the Brookings Institution, has created an interactive map of the United States and using national data reported by school districts to the U.S. Dept. of Education Office for Civil Rights from the 2015-16 school year allows anyone to explore rates of chronic absence at the school, district, state and national levels by student and school characteristics.

Research articles from Attendance Works:

Additional articles:

Contact information:

Questions about Department initiatives related to chronic absenteeism may be directed through Lisa Harney, Dropout Prevention and Recovery Specialist, in the Department's Office of College, Career & Technical Education: / 781-338-3903.

Last Updated: May 14, 2019

Contact Us

Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education
75 Pleasant Street, Malden, MA 02148-4906

Voice: (781) 338-3000
TTY: (800) 439-2370


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