Skip to main content

Center Ideas: Collaboration is Key to Solving Chronic Absenteeism

Chronic absenteeism is a growing concern as schools work to accelerate student learning to overcome lost classroom time during the COVID-19 pandemic. 


According to a report recently published by Attendance Works, nearly two-thirds (66%) of enrolled students attended a school with high or extreme levels of chronic absence in the 2021–22 school year, compared with just 25% of enrolled students attending such schools prior to the pandemic. This means at least one of five students in their school was missing almost four weeks throughout the school year. 


The trend extended across the Region 5 states, with chronic absenteeism rates of individual students spiking at 19.5% for Virginia, 23.1% for Tennessee, 25.1% for Kentucky, and 35.3% for West Virginia in 2022.


These post-pandemic increases in student absences have captured the attention of the local news media across Region 5 (WDRB Media Louisville, KYFOX17 NashvilleNBC5 Bristol, VAFOX11 Charleston, WV). 


Fortunately, state educational agencies in our region have taken action to support districts, recognizing student attendance as a critical factor in overcoming learning loss. The Virginia Department of Education has a Chronic Absenteeism task force and developed resources to support school districts, such as the Superintendent’s “ActionKit” for Improving Attendance


The Kentucky Department of Education has a dedicated webpage for chronic absenteeism concerns and has offered a series of webinars for educators and school administrators that target ending chronic absenteeism in the state.


Summer school attendance is a related concern in states like Tennessee, where 3rd-grade students can be held back if they fail to demonstrate English/language arts proficiency. Following the results of a study that showed a lack of parental engagement as a major factor in predicting summer school absenteeism, Tennessee school districts began partnering with parents through improved communication and use of social media to emphasize the importance of summer school attendance for their children. 


And state legislators are listening to district leaders’ concerns about the lasting impact of poor attendance. In West Virginia, lawmakers are considering legislative action to address chronic absenteeism in the state’s public school system by requiring earlier and stricter intervention plans for students identified as truant or chronically absent. 


However, a general understanding of each state’s school districts is insufficient to solve the problem. Working with high-capacity partners, including the Region 5 Comprehensive Center, state educational agencies and local school districts can use data visualizations to reveal patterns and insights that may not be obvious.


States and districts can help schools identify strategies to support chronically absent students, including analyzing data from different stages of each enrollment period to identify connections to the problem before, during, and after the pandemic. Specific student groups may experience significant absenteeism while others do not. Making the correct assumptions can lead to solutions. 


States can also play an essential role in messaging that daily attendance matters. There are no quick fixes to solve the chronic absenteeism problem, but research, partnerships, and collaboration to analyze data and test solutions can produce progress and lasting results. 


For more information and resources, contact the Region 5 Comprehensive Center team.


The Region 5 Comprehensive Center offers this blog as the first of two posts on support for state and local educational agencies to increase student attendance.