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The best way to identify students and schools struggling with poor attendance is to leverage existing data to calculate chronic absence. Most often defined as missing 10 percent of the school year, (or an average of just 2 days each month), chronic absence is calculated by dividing the total number of days missed for any reason—excused, unexcused or suspension—by the total number of days a student could have been in school at that point in the academic year. Chronic absence is different from average daily attendance (how many students typically attend school each day) and truancy (missing school without permission).

Chronic absence has been a largely overlooked and infrequently monitored attendance metric. This situation changed with the passage of the federal Every Student Succeeds Act which requires all states to report on chronic absence and allows states to adopt chronic absence as a school accountability metric. The vast majority (36 states plus the District of Columbia) adopted a chronic absence metric in their state plans. Twenty-seven states defined chronic absence as missing 10 percent of the school year.

A growing number of states, and some districts, now provide chronic absence data online. Check your state department of education and your local school district’s websites to see if this data is available. If you can’t find it, contact your state department of education or school district for help, and ask them to produce this information if it isn’t yet available.

We created data tools that districts can use to examine patterns and identify which schools and students are at risk. Districts can use these tools to create a one-time snapshot or to serve as a model for data reports that can be generated regularly by their own student information systems