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Student and Family Support (SFS)

Student Attendance and Chronic Absenteeism

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Guidance For Attendance Policies : This guidance document is intended to help inform the development of or updates to each school district's attendance policies and practices. The information provided in this document includes: key terms and definitions, brief overview of laws on compulsory school attendance, responsibilities of parents/guardians, school committees and schools, recommendations for written policies, and sample best practices. In addition, this document contains information about chronic absences, truancy, and dropping out. The goal is to support school districts and educators in working with students and their parents/guardians to promote consistent student attendance and engagement in learning.

Department (DESE) Attendance and Dropout Reporting Guidance
This document has been updated as of November 2021. The document is intended to answer questions district staff may have in reporting student attendance and dropout data to the Department. The guidelines apply to public school students, including students with disabilities who are placed by the district in public or private special education schools, and students in DYS facilities.

Chronic Absence and Accountability

The federal Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), maintains a 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.

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.

In the chart below you will see a three year comparison of statewide Chronic Absenteeism. In March 2020 Covid-19 caused all schools to be closed for in-person learning; therefore, the data was reported only through March. During school year 2020-2021 schools were operating in both remote and hybrid formats.

This chart provides a comparison of the chronic absence rates in years 2019, 2020, 2021. For each grade Pre-K through grade 12 there are three columns each representing a year. Each column represents the percentage point for the number of students who were chronically absent in a given grade in a given year.  The 2020 -2021 (2021) school year columns explicitly identify the percentage number.  It is the highest chronic absence rate of the three years in every grade.  The percentage by grade for 2021 is: 
Pre kindergarten 26.3% 
Kindergarten  16.6% 
Grade 1= 13.9% 
Grade 2= 12.1% 
Grade 3= 11.4% 
Grade 4= 11.1% 
Grade 5= 11.9% 
Grade 6= 14.9% 
Grade 7= 17.5% 
Grade 8= 18.8% 
Grade 9= 21.9% 
Grade 10= 23.5% 
Garde 11= 24.4% 
Garde 12=26% 
The state average for all grades is 17.7%

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 . 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.

My Career and Academic Plan (MyCAP): My Career and Academic Plan (MyCAP) is a process that engages and empowers students to seek out learning opportunities that align with individual career interests and self-defined goals. Through identification of interests and goals along with an acknowledgement of any barriers to success and supports necessary to overcome those barriers, MyCAP guides students as they map their academic plan, identify personal/social skills for development, and identify career development activities necessary to achieve their individual postsecondary success.


Powerpoint presentations from national researchers at the Symposium on Attendance and Absenteeism held August 7, 2018 at The Boston Foundation are available upon request (see contact information at bottom of page).

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: April 11, 2022

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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