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The best way to identify students with poor attendance is to calculate the data that schools are already collecting. In addition to looking at school-wide averages, as most schools do, shift the data to see how many students missed 10 percent of the school year in the previous year. Map the attendance gaps by grade, by classroom, by neighborhood, by poverty rates and by racial and ethnic groups. Reach out to their parents sometime in September. At the end of the month, look at how many students have already missed 10 percent (2-3 days) and track their attendance going forward. Attendance Works has created data tools that districts can use to examine patterns and identify which students are at risk.

If you can’t look at chronic absence, average daily attendance (ADA) numbers can provide some direction about where to focus resources. Generally, schools with ADA rates higher than 97 percent have little trouble with chronic absence, while those with rates below 93 percent almost always have too many students missing too many days. At schools with 95 percent ADA, chronic absence rates can vary dramatically.

You can also use data to look for positive outliers, schools that have low rates of chronic absence despite challenging circumstances. These schools can offer strategies—and living proof—that chronic absence can be reduced.