Attendance interventions for chronically absent students

Attendance interventions for chronically absent students provide support and resources to address individual factors that contribute to absences such as low self-esteem, school anxiety, social skills, or medical conditions; familial factors such as discipline, parental support, or poverty; and school factors such as attendance policies, teacher/student relationships, and bullying. Such programs can be implemented by schools, community organizations, courts, police agencies, or multi-sector collaborations (Campbell-Maynard 2012). In 2013-2014, 1 in 8 students were chronically absent, missing three weeks or more of school via excused or unexcused absences (US ED-Chronic absenteeism). 

Expected Beneficial Outcomes (Rated)

  • Improved student attendance

Evidence of Effectiveness

There is strong evidence that interventions that assist chronically absent students improve their attendance. On average, such programs increase student attendance by about one week (Campbell-Maynard 2012). However, program components and effects vary. Additional evidence is needed to determine which programmatic elements lead to the greatest improvements (Campbell-Maynard 2012, Ekstrand 2015*).

Court-, school-, and community-based programs, and programs run through collaborations of these organizations all improve attendance (Campbell-Maynard 2012, Mallett 2016*). Researchers recommend that communities prioritize ease of program implementation over cross-entity collaboration, as multi-modal programs do not appear more effective than programs implemented by a single stakeholder. Truancy is associated with additional delinquency, poor school performance, substance abuse, and school dropout (Campbell-Maynard 2012).

A Los Angeles county-based study suggests that truancy interventions are more effective when they address students’ and families’ physical and mental health needs, increase school-based efforts, and improve coordination across partners (Gase 2015*). In East and South Los Angeles, student interviews suggest shaping school environments to support student engagement, improving school responses to truancy, and further involving and engaging parents may increase the effectiveness of attendance interventions (Gase 2016).

Chronic absenteeism is most prevalent among students from families with low incomes; the highest rates are found among the youngest and oldest students, and seniors in high school often have the highest rates of all (Balfanz 2012). Students with serious emotional disturbance and learning disabilities also appear more likely to be chronically absent or become truant (Chen 2016b*).

US and international research suggests that positive school climates, opportunities to bond with adults, and supports for developing students’ core competencies (e.g., self-esteem, self-control, decision making skills, etc.) may keep kids in school (Ekstrand 2015*).

Impact on Disparities

Likely to decrease disparities

Implementation Examples

The US Departments of Education (US ED), Health and Human Services (US DHHS), Housing and Urban Development (US HUD), and Justice (US DOJ) “Every Student, Every Day” initiative helps coordinate systems of support among state and local education, health, housing, and justice systems to generate and act on absenteeism data, create and deploy positive messages and measures, and launch local initiatives to address chronic absenteeism (US ED-ESED toolkit 2015). 

Oregon (NCSL-Early ed tracking 2016) and Washington (WA HB 2449) are two states that have passed legislation to develop and implement plans to reduce chronic absenteeism. Other states have developed training modules, early warning systems, data collection efforts and resources to support interagency and cross-sector collaboration, as in Virginia (VA DOE-Attendance) and New York (NY-Chronic absence). Hawaii’s Truancy Reduction Demonstration Project includes a series of public service announcements to inspire kids to stay in school (UHI-Education PSAs).  

Many local municipalities also support multi-sector, multi-agency partnerships to reduce chronic absenteeism. For example, in Washington DC, the Truancy Taskforce, the Graduation Pathways Project, and the Youth Re-Engagement Center are examples of collaborations to provide comprehensive supports for chronically absent students (DC-Absenteeism).

Implementation Resources

US ED-ESED toolkit 2015 - US Department of Education (US ED), US Department of Justice, US Department of Health and Human Services, US Department of Housing and Urban Development. Every student, every day (ESED): A community toolkit to address and eliminate chronic absenteeism. Washington, DC; 2015.

ABA-Truancy report 2013 - American Bar Association (ABA), Commission on Youth at Risk. Executive summary: Report on truancy and dropout prevention. 2013; 2(9).

IN DOE-Chronic absenteeism - Indiana Department of Education (IN DOE). Chronic absenteeism: Legislation & resources.

Attendance Works - Attendance Works. Advancing student success by reducing chronic absence: What works, take action, and resources.

Check and Connect - University of Minnesota. Check & connect: A comprehensive student engagement intervention.

US ED-Chronic absenteeism - US Department of Education (US ED). Chronic absenteeism in the nation’s schools: An unprecedented look at a hidden educational crisis.

Citations - Evidence

* Journal subscription may be required for access.

Campbell-Maynard 2012 - Maynard BR, McCrea KT, Kelly MS. Indicated truancy interventions: Effects on school attendance among chronic truant students. Campbell Systematic Reviews. 2012:10.

Ekstrand 2015* - Ekstrand B. What it takes to keep children in school: A research review. Educational Review. 2015;67(4):459–482.

Mallett 2016* - Mallett CA. Truancy: It’s not about skipping school. Child and Adolescent Social Work Journal. 2016;33(4):337-347.

Gase 2015* - Gase LN, Butler K, Kuo T. The current state of truancy reduction programs and opportunities for enhancement in Los Angeles County. Children and Youth Services Review. 2015;52:17–25.

Gase 2016 - Gase LN, DeFosset A, Perry R, Kuo T. Youths’ perspectives on the reasons underlying school truancy and opportunities to improve school attendance. The Qualitative Report. 2016;21(2):299–320.

Balfanz 2012 - Balfanz R, Byrnes V. The importance of being in school: A report on absenteeism in the nation’s public schools. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Center for Social Organization of Schools; 2012.

Chen 2016b* - Chen CC, Culhane DP, Metraux S, Park JM, Venable JC. The heterogeneity of truancy among urban middle school students: A latent class growth analysis. Journal of Child and Family Studies. 2016;25(4):1066–1075.

Citations - Implementation Examples

* Journal subscription may be required for access.

US ED-ESED toolkit 2015 - US Department of Education (US ED), US Department of Justice, US Department of Health and Human Services, US Department of Housing and Urban Development. Every student, every day (ESED): A community toolkit to address and eliminate chronic absenteeism. Washington, DC; 2015.

NCSL-Early ed tracking 2016 - National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL). 2016 Early education legislative tracking. 2016.

WA HB 2449 - Washington State 64th Legislature. An act relating to court-based and school-based intervention and prevention efforts to promote attendance and reduce truancy. 2016 Regular Session: House Bill 2449; 2016: 1-26.

VA DOE-Attendance - Virginia Department of Education (VA DOE). Prevention strategies & programs: Attendance & truancy.

NY-Chronic absence - New York State (NY). Every student present! Solving chronic absence: Information and resources for educators and community coalitions.

UHI-Education PSAs - College of Education, University of Hawaii at Manoa (UHI). Education public service announcements (PSAs): Sending better messages.

DC-Absenteeism - Washington DC, Office of the Deputy Mayor for Education. Reducing absenteeism and reconnecting youth to educational opportunities.

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