Massachusetts defines chronically absent as missing at least 10 percent of days enrolled (for instance, 18 days absent if enrolled for a typical school year of 180 days), regardless of the reason for the absence. Being chronically absent can have a significant impact on a student's academic progress and their ability to access the variety of academic and non-academic supports that schools provide.
Chronic absenteeism grew during the COVID-19 pandemic and, as of the 2022-23 school year, had not returned to pre-pandemic rates. Almost 1 in 4 Massachusetts students missed 18 or more days of school in 2022-23. To see which schools were identified as Attendance Priority Schools in fall 2023, download this file: Attendance Priority Schools
The chart below shows five years of statewide chronic absenteeism rates by grade. 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. School year 2021-2022 saw the return to in-person education for all students.
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:
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.
Families and school collaboration can boost students' attendance significantly. Families can reinforce the importance of regular attendance, set routines, and provide the necessary encouragement. Families can also give their child's school valuable insights into their child's individual needs and challenges, allowing for more tailored support. By working together, families and schools can identify and address attendance issues promptly, promoting a culture where attendance is viewed as a shared responsibility.
Research: The Impact of Family Engagement
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 guidance document from 2021 is designed 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.
The Department's Educational Vision (EdVision ) aims for all students in Massachusetts, particularly students from historically underserved groups and communities, to have equitable opportunities to excel in all content areas across all grades. Strategic objectives that help advance this vision include supporting the Whole Student, engaging students in Deeper Learning, and developing a Diverse and Effective Workforce.
The Whole Student strategic objective, for example, includes partnering with districts, schools, and programs to: Cultivate systems to support the whole student and foster joyful, healthy, and supportive learning environments so that all students feel valued, connected, nourished, and ready to learn.
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.
Social, Emotional, Behavioral Academy: The Social, Emotional, Behavioral Academy is a 3-year MTSS Academy that aims to help school and/or district teams cultivate joyful, culturally and linguistically sustaining learning environments and implement multi-tiered systems of social, emotional, and behavioral support.
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 own their future and seek out learning opportunities that align with individual interests, strengths, skills, and talents. As students understand themselves, they become better able to identify authentic career interests and develop goals for attainment. MyCAP guides students as they map their academic plan, identify the personal/social skills necessary for workplace and life success, and identify and gain access to career development activities that will support them on their pathway to postsecondary success.
Attendance Works is a non-profit agency committed to improving student success by reducing chronic absence through research, resources, tools, and information for schools, districts, families, communities.
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: Lisa.M.Harney@mass.gov / 781-338-3903.
Last Updated: November 3, 2023
Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education
75 Pleasant Street, Malden, MA 02148-4906
Voice: (781) 338-3000
TTY: (800) 439-2370
Disclaimer: A reference in this website to any specific commercial products, processes, or services, or the use of any trade, firm, or corporation name is for the information and convenience of the public and does not constitute endorsement or recommendation by the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education.