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Ask a REL Response

Addressing chronic absence — March 2020


Could you provide research on ways to address student chronic absence?


Following an established REL West research protocol, we conducted a search for research reports and resources on ways to address student chronic absence. The sources included ERIC, Google Scholar, and PsychInfo. (For details, please see the methods section at the end of this memo.)

We have not evaluated the quality of references and the resources provided in this response. We offer them only for your reference. Also, we searched for references through the most commonly used sources of research, but the list is not comprehensive and other relevant references and resources may exist. References are listed in alphabetical order, not necessarily in order of relevance. Access to the full articles is free unless indicated otherwise.

Research References

Black, A. T., Seder, R. C., & Kekahio, W. (2014). Review of research on student nonenrollment and chronic absenteeism: A report for the Pacific Region (REL 2015-054). Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Education, Institute of Education Sciences, National Center for Education Evaluation and Regional Assistance, Regional Educational Laboratory Pacific. Full text available from

From the abstract: “In some areas of the Regional Educational Laboratory (REL) Pacific Region, between one-fourth and a half of secondary school-age students are not enrolled in school. Not being enrolled in school or being chronically absent can have lasting effects on students’ economic and social development. This REL Pacific report summarizes research on nonenrollment and chronic absenteeism from the United States and emergent nations that share characteristics with Pacific island nations. Four types of factors influence student nonenrollment and absenteeism: student-specific, family-specific, school-specific, and community-specific. Many of these potential factors are interconnected, and the effects of these factors may vary by region. Therefore, educators, policymakers, and family and community members in the Pacific Region may need to gather additional data in order to explore these factors in their own communities. Stakeholders can also use this review to begin to identify the root causes for why students are not in school in order to develop and implement targeted strategies to support student enrollment and attendance. The following are appended: (1) Calculating the net enrollment rate; (2) Net enrollment rates in Pacific island nations; and (3) Data collection and methodology.”

Chang, H. N., & Jordan, P. W. (2011). Tackling chronic absence starting in the early grades: What cities can do to ensure every child has a fighting chance to succeed. National Civic Review, 100(4), 6–12. Full text available from

From the article: “In Baltimore, the mayor’s office, school officials, community partners, and philanthropic leaders worked together on a key educational strategy: improving school attendance. In New York, the mayor catalyzed a comprehensive citywide response by establishing an interagency task force to develop a comprehensive set of strategies to reduce absenteeism, analyzing data, launching interventions in an initial pilot round of twenty-five schools and tapping community resources, celebrities, mentors, and businesses to encourage students, as early as kindergarten, to go to school more regularly. And in Oakland, California, city leaders, educators, and foundations are using a detailed analysis of attendance patterns to begin building a citywide approach to reducing chronic absenteeism. These cities, like others across the country, are recognizing the power of attendance to improve student achievement. Often overlooked amid the emphasis on standardized test scores, attendance numbers can reveal which students—and schools—are headed off track academically. When properly analyzed, the data can tip off city leaders to deeper community problems and suggest where the city should focus its resources to help students and families overcome common barriers to getting to school.”

Edwards, L. (2013). School counselors improving attendance. Georgia School Counselors Association Journal, 20(1). Full text available from

From the abstract: “This study examined the outcomes of interventions used to address attendance issues at a middle school located in the Southern United States. School-wide interventions were implemented to address absenteeism of all students and individual interventions were implemented to address absenteeism with targeted students. An explanation of each intervention is provided. Post-intervention data indicated that the attendance rate improved. For the purpose of this study, the attendance rate is defined as the percentage of students who missed 15 or more days of school during the school year.”

Friedman Cole, J. (2011). Interventions to combat the many facets of absenteeism: Action research. GSCA Journal, 62-70. Full text available from

From the abstract: “This paper operationalizes the definition of action research (AR) and the importance of conducting such studies to improve the lives of students and professionals. This paper provides an overview of literature regarding variables related to truancy and absenteeism. The paper discusses the importance of students being present and engaged, negative implications associated with poor attendance and dropping out of school, and reviews the effectiveness of Check & Connect and other multimodal approaches used to increase attendance. Evidence presented in the paper supports the usefulness of having a check-in and reward system for students with frequent absences reduces truancy. Lastly, the paper presents study results and implications.”

Gottfried, M. A. (2017). Linking getting to school with going to school. Educational Evaluation and Policy Analysis, 20(10), 1–22. Abstract available from

From the abstract: “Researchers, policymakers, and practitioners have recently aligned efforts to reduce school absenteeism, particularly during kindergarten when excessive absences are highest out of all elementary grades. Little is known, however, about whether the way in which students get to school might influence if they go to school. To address this gap, this study was the first to address the role of school bus-taking on reducing school absences. Using a national large-scale dataset of children (the Early Childhood Longitudinal Study–Kindergarten Class of 2010–2011), the findings suggest that children who took the school bus to kindergarten had fewer absent days over the school year and were less likely to be chronically absent compared with children who commuted to school in any other way. Given that many districts are considering cutting or restricting bus services, this study brings to question whether doing so might limit the resources upon which families rely to ensure their children attend school each day. Implications are discussed.”

Gottfried, M. A., & Hutt, E. L. (Eds.). (2019). Absent from school: Understanding and addressing student absenteeism. Cambridge, MA: Harvard Education Press. Abstract available from

From the book description: “In ‘Absent from School,’ Gottfried and Hutt offer a comprehensive and timely resource for educators and policy makers seeking to understand the scope, impact, and causes of chronic student absenteeism. The editors present a series of studies by leading researchers from a variety of disciplines that address which students are missing school and why, what roles schools themselves play in contributing to or offsetting patterns of absenteeism, and ways to assess student attendance for purposes of school accountability. The contributors examine school-based initiatives that focus on a range of issues, including transportation, student health, discipline policies, and protections for immigrant students, as well as interventions intended to improve student attendance. Only in the past two or three years has chronic absenteeism become the focus of attention among policy makers, civil rights advocates, and educators. ‘Absent from School’ provides the first critical, systematic look at research that can inform and guide those who are working to ensure that every child is in school and learning every day. Chapters include: (1) Roll Call: Describing Chronically Absent Students, the Schools They Attend, and Implications for Accountability (Heather Hough); (2) Variation in Chronic Absenteeism: The Role of Children, Classrooms, and Schools (Kevin A. Gee); (3) Attending to Attendance: Why Data Quality and Modeling Assumptions Matter When Using Attendance as an Outcome (Shaun M. Dougherty and Joshua Childs); (4) The Distributional Impacts of Student Absences on Academic Achievement (Seth Gershenson, Jessica Rae McBean, and Long Tran); (5) Reinforcing Student Attendance: Shifting Mind-Sets and Implementing Data-Driven Improvement Strategies During School Transitions (Stacy B. Ehrlich and David W. Johnson); (6) Schools as Sanctuaries? Examining the Relationship Between Immigration Enforcement and Absenteeism Rates for Immigrant-Origin Children (Carolyn Sattin-Bajaj and Jacob Kirksey); (7) Can School Buses Drive Down (Chronic) Absenteeism? (Sarah A. Cordes, Michele Leardo, Christopher Rick, and Amy Ellen Schwartz); (8) The Ills of Absenteeism: Can School-Based Health Centers Provide the Cure? (Jennifer Graves, Sarit Weisburd, and Christopher Salem); (9) Tackling Truancy: Findings from a State-Level Policy Banning Suspensions for Truancy (Kaitlin Anderson, Anna J. Egalite, and Jonathan N. Mills); (10) Ready . . . Set . . . Text! Reducing School Absenteeism Through Parent-School Two-Way Text Messaging (Ken Smythe-Leistico and Lindsay C. Page); (11) Keeping Families Front and Center: Leveraging Our Best Ally for Ninth-Grade Attendance (Martha Abele Mac Iver and Steven B. Sheldon); (12) Intervention Design Choices and Evaluation Lessons from Multisite Field Trials on Reducing Absenteeism (Rekha Balu); and (13) Conclusion (Ethan L. Hutt and Michael A. Gottfried). [Foreword by Elaine Allensworth and Robert Balfanz. Afterword by Todd Rodgers and Johannes Demarzi.]”

Gottfried, M. A., & Hutt, E. L. (2019). Addressing absenteeism: Lessons for policy and practice. Stanford, CA: Policy Analysis for California Education (PACE). Full text available from

From the abstract: “Addressing student absenteeism continues to permeate education policy and practice. California and a majority of other states have incorporated ‘chronic absenteeism’ as an accountability metric under the Every Student Succeeds Act. It is therefore a crucial time to take stock of what we know on the research, policy, and practice to better understand the measurement of student absenteeism and how to reduce it. To further this goal and spark a broader conversation about student attendance as a valuable policy lever, we wrote the first book centered on the issue of school absenteeism. This policy memo summarizes our multifaceted, multidisciplinary examination of what we have learned about how schools measure and reduce absenteeism and what we need to know going forward as California and other states hold schools and districts accountable for students’ absences.”

Gottfried, M. A., & Gee, K. A. (2017). Identifying the determinants of chronic absenteeism: A bioecological systems approach. Teachers College Record, 119(7). Abstract available from

From the abstract: “Background/Context: Chronic school absenteeism is a pervasive problem across the US; in early education, it is most rampant in kindergarten and its consequences are particularly detrimental, often leading to poorer academic, behavioral, and developmental outcomes later in life. Though prior empirical research has identified a broad range of determinants of chronic absenteeism, there lacks a single, unified theoretically driven investigation examining how such factors concurrently explain the incidence of chronic absenteeism among our nation’s youngest schoolchildren. Thus, it is difficult to determine the relative importance of one factor over another, hence making it challenging to develop appropriate supports and services to reduce school absences. Purpose/Research Questions: Our study filled this critical void—we investigated multiple determinants of chronic absenteeism that were grounded, theoretically and empirically, in Bronfenbrenner’s bioecological model of development. Specifically, using data from the Early Childhood Longitudinal Study, Kindergarten Class of 2010-11 (ECLS-K:2011) and the method of hierarchical generalized linear modeling (HGLM), we analyzed how the co-occurrence of key (1) process, (2) person, and (3) context (micro-, meso-, exo- and macrosystem) factors was associated with kindergarteners’ probability of being chronically absent. Findings/Results: Children who have poorer health, higher internalizing behaviors, and more frequent engagement in learning activities at home had higher odds of chronic absenteeism. Also, children from larger families and of lower socioeconomic status faced increased odds of chronic absenteeism. Conversely, children holding positive attitudes towards school had lowered odds of chronic absenteeism, a finding that remained robust across socioeconomic status groups. Finally, parent-school connections were associated with lowered odds of absenteeism. Conclusions/Recommendations: Overall, our findings strongly suggested that addressing chronic absenteeism will require comprehensive and multifaceted approaches that recognize these multiple factors. With this theoretically grounded, more descriptive approach, it is more feasible to identify key factors and subsequently design policies and practices to prevent absence behavior.”

Kearney, C. A., & Graczyk, P. (2014). A response to intervention model to promote school attendance and decrease school absenteeism. Child & Youth Care Forum, 43(1), 1–25. Abstract available from

From the abstract: “Background: Regular school attendance is foundational to children’s success, but school absenteeism is a common, serious, and highly vexing problem. Researchers from various disciplines have produced a rich yet diverse literature for conceptualizing problematic absenteeism that has led to considerable confusion and lack of consensus about a pragmatic and coordinated assessment and intervention approach. This is a theoretical paper guided by a systematic search of the empirical literature related to school attendance, chronic absenteeism, and the utilization of an RTI framework to address the needs of school-aged children and youth. The RTI and absenteeism literature over the past 25 years have both emphasized the need for early identification and intervention, progress monitoring, functional behavioral assessment, empirically supported procedures and protocols, and a team-based approach. An RTI framework promotes regular attendance for all students at Tier 1, targeted interventions for at-risk students at Tier 2, and intense and individualized interventions for students with chronic absenteeism at Tier 3. An RTI framework such as the one presented here could serve as a blueprint for researchers as well as educational, mental health, and other professionals. To develop this model and further enhance its utility for all youth, researchers and practitioners should strive for consensus in defining key terms related to school attendance and absenteeism and focus more on prevention and early intervention efforts.”

Knoster, K. C. (2016). Strategies for addressing student and teacher absenteeism: A literature review. Washington, DC: North Central Comprehensive Center. Full text available from

From the abstract: “The North Central Comprehensive Center team at McREL International conducted an analysis of current literature regarding student and teacher absenteeism to better conceptualize the problem and highlight successful steps that can be taken to address it. Drawing upon theoretically conceptualized and practically applied strategies for resolving absenteeism and truancy, they put forward a series of best practices and recommendations for professional educators and administrators struggling to overcome the persistent challenge of chronic absenteeism. Potential solutions to chronic student absenteeism include: (1) effective use of data to identify, monitor, and support the attendance and performance of students at risk of absenteeism; (2) family and community engagement; (3) provision of wrap-around services for students facing obstacles to consistent attendance that are outside of school; and (4) implementation of social and emotional learning supports. A number of factors appear to influence the extent to which teachers are absent from class, including pay structure, working conditions, community conditions, and cultural responsibilities. Potential solutions include: (1) acknowledge and reward teacher attendance and performance; (2) reevaluate policies and procedures in regard to whether or not they mitigate or contribute to teacher absenteeism; and (3) invest in teachers’ physical and emotional well-being and encourage collegial relationships among teachers and leaders.”

London, R. A., Sanchez, M., & Castrechini, S. (2016). The dynamics of chronic absence and student achievement. Education Policy Analysis Archives, 24(112), 1–31. Abstract available from

From the abstract: “Students with low attendance miss important learning and developmental opportunities and research has shown that they are at heightened risk of negative outcomes. Although there is an extensive body of research on truancy, chronic absenteeism is not generally measured or tracked in school data systems and is therefore not as well understood. This analysis uses linked, longitudinal administrative records to examine chronic absence across years for elementary and secondary school students. We investigate chronic absence patterns over time, ramifications of chronic absence on students’ educational outcomes, and effects of continued absence across school years. Results illustrate the cumulative nature of chronic absence and the negative role of persistent chronic absence on students’ educational outcomes. We discuss implications of these results for state policies and intervention procedures.”

McConnell, B. M., & Kubina, R. M. (2014). Connecting with families to improve students’ school attendance: A review of the literature. Preventing School Failure, 58(4), 249–256. Abstract available from

From the abstract: “School attendance is a rising issue in public schools. Students regularly absent from school can end up involved in destructive behaviors and dropout of school. Family characteristics are strong determining factors in students’ school attendance. This presents the question, ‘Can family involvement improve public school students’ attendance?’ One way to do this is through phone calls from the school faculty to students’ caregivers. Promoting attendance early in a student’s life can encourage attendance and maintain this habit throughout his or her school career. The studies reviewed—using parent involvement—show promise to improving students’ attendance. When parents or caregivers are regularly apprised of their child’s attendance, they can provide appropriate feedback at home. Other findings and implications for phone call interventions and attendance are discussed.”

Perry, M., Gottfried, M., Young, K., Colchico, C., Lee, K., & Chang, H. (2019). Approaches to reducing chronic absenteeism. Stanford, CA: Policy Analysis for California Education, PACE. Full text available from

From the abstract: “Acknowledging the importance of students simply being in school, California has made student attendance part of its accountability system. This brief covers a session in which it was pointed out that using chronic absenteeism as an accountability measure is new and its underlying causes are not well understood. Even as many schools face the expectation that they take action to address high rates of absenteeism, myths about school attendance persist. The brief includes examples of local efforts to improve student attendance and discusses steps needed to build the capacity of schools and communities to get kids to school and keep them there.”

Robinson, C. D., Lee, M. G., Dearing, E., & Rogers, T. (2018). Reducing student absenteeism in the early grades by targeting parental beliefs. American Educational Research Journal, 55(6), 1163–1192. Full text available from

From the abstract: “Attendance in kindergarten and elementary school robustly predicts student outcomes. Despite this well-documented association, there is little experimental research on how to reduce absenteeism in the early grades. This paper presents results from a randomized field experiment in 10 school districts evaluating the impact of a low-cost, parent-focused intervention on student attendance in grades K–5. The intervention targeted commonly held parental misbeliefs undervaluing the importance of regular K–5 attendance as well as the number of school days their child had missed. The intervention decreased chronic absenteeism by 15%. This study presents the first experimental evidence on how to improve student attendance in grades K–5 at scale and has implications for increasing parental involvement in education.”

Rogers, T., Duncan, T., Wolford, T., Ternovski, J., Subramanyam, S., & Reitano, A. (2017). A randomized experiment using absenteeism information to “nudge” attendance (REL 2017– 252). Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Education, Institute of Education Sciences, National Center for Education Evaluation and Regional Assistance, Regional Educational Laboratory Mid-Atlantic. Full text available from

From the abstract: “This randomized controlled trial, conducted in collaboration with the School District of Philadelphia, finds that a single postcard that encouraged guardians to improve their student’s attendance reduced absences by roughly 2.4 percent. Guardians received one of two types of message: one encouraging guardians to improve their student’s attendance or one encouraging guardians to improve their student’s attendance that also included specific information about the student’s attendance history. There was no statistically significant difference in absences between students according to which message their guardians received. The effect of the postcard did not differ between students in grades 1–8 and students in grades 9–12.”

Rogers, T., & Feller, A. (2016). Parent beliefs and student absences: Large absence- reduction field experiment. Evanston, IL: Society for Research on Educational Effectiveness. Full text available from

From the abstract: “School attendance is a robust predictor of course performance, and it is consistently the strongest predictor of high school dropout, even more so than suspensions and test scores. Focusing on getting students to school is an essential part of decreasing high school dropout rates. What is concerning is that up to 20% of students miss essentially a month or more of schooling in a year. Recent work suggests that guardians are unaware of how their student’s attendance compares to that of their classmates; moreover, they often are very miscalibrated in estimating how many days of school their own student has been absent. The objective of the project presented in this study is to motivate parents/guardians to improve student attendance through multiple communications during the school year. The project addresses the following research questions: (1) Does contacting guardians and encouraging them to improve their students’ attendance reduce absences?; (2) Does communicating to guardians the total number of days their student missed reduce absences?; (3) Does communicating to guardians the total number of days their student missed as compared to the absences of a typical student reduce absences?; and (4) Do these interventions also impact the attendance of other students in the household not explicitly mentioned in the mailings? The study involves students and their guardians in all public elementary, middle, and high schools in a major metropolitan school district. This study incorporated various data sets exported directly from the administrative records of the school district. The data sets included student demographics and enrollment data, guardian contact information, and attendance data. This study identifies an easy-to-implement, extremely cost-effective way to reduce absenteeism. This intervention cost around $6 per incremental day of attendance it generated. Back-of-the-envelope estimates of the cost per incremental day of attendance from social workers and truancy officers is around $50-$100.”

Tyre, A., Feuerborn, L., & Pierce, J. (2011). Schoolwide intervention to reduce chronic tardiness at the middle and high school levels. Preventing School Failure, 55(3), 132–139. Abstract available from

From the abstract: “When many students are tardy at the secondary level, teachers must continually restart instruction or delay beginning instructional periods throughout the school day. To address the considerable amount of instructional time lost caused by high rates of tardiness, the authors investigated the results of schoolwide intervention to reduce student tardiness in a tribal middle and high school. The participating school staff implemented a schoolwide intervention that included explicit teaching of expected transition behavior, active supervision of students in common areas during transition times, and consistent consequences for tardiness. After implementation, average daily tardiness decreased substantially and lower levels were maintained over time. The authors provide implications for schoolwide intervention to improve student punctuality and recommendations for future research.”

U.S. Departments of Justice, Health and Human Services, Housing and Urban Development, and Education. (2015). Every student, every day: A community toolkit to address and eliminate chronic absenteeism. Full text available from

From the abstract: “This Toolkit offers information, suggested action steps, and lists of existing tools and resources—including evidence-based resources—for individuals, leaders, and systems to begin or enhance the work of effective, coordinated community action to address and eliminate chronic absenteeism, including actions steps for:

  • Youth
  • Parents and Families
  • Mentors and Volunteers
  • School District Superintendents and Staff, and School Personnel
  • Early Learning Providers
  • Health Care, Public Health & Human Service Agencies & Providers
  • Public Housing Authorities
  • Juvenile Justice and Law Enforcement
  • Homeless Services Providers
  • Mayors and Local Government
  • Community, Faith-Based, and Philanthropic Organizations.”

Additional Organizations to Consult

Attendance Works

From the website: “Established in 2010, Attendance Works is a national and state initiative that promotes awareness of the important role that school attendance plays in achieving academic success starting with school entry. Our goal is to ensure that every district in the country not only tracks chronic absence data beginning in kindergarten or ideally earlier, but also partners with families and community agencies to intervene when attendance is a problem for children or particular schools. Our three objective are:

  • Building public awareness and political will about the need to address chronic absence. This includes extensive media outreach as well as working with key national organizations to spread the word about why this issue matters and explore the role federal government can play. It also includes explaining the critical difference between chronic absence and truancy.
  • Fostering state campaigns and partnerships by developing coalitions to advance state and local policies that promote tracking attendance for individual students and reporting on chronic absence to ensure schools, especially if they are low-performing, will intervene to improve student attendance.
  • Encouraging local practice by providing technical assistance and tools to help communities, schools and school districts monitor and work together to address chronic absence. This includes creating peer-learning networks and using our website to provide access to a variety of free tools and resources to over 275,000 visitors each year.”

The National Center for School

From the website: “The National Center for School Engagement (NCSE), collaborates with school districts, law enforcement agencies, courts, and state and federal agencies to support youth and their families to be engaged at school. We pay special attention to truancy, dropout, and bullying prevention.”

REL West note: In particular, see tab on school policy improvement at


From the website: “FutureEd is an independent, solution-oriented think tank at Georgetown University’s McCourt School of Public Policy. We are committed to bringing fresh energy to the causes of excellence, equity, and efficiency in K–12 and higher education on behalf of the nation’s disadvantaged students. As a nonpartisan, public-facing organization, we work to produce clear, compelling analysis on key education issues for policymakers, practitioners, the media, and other key education change agents and influencers at the federal, state, and local levels—promoting smart policymaking in a complex and fast-changing educational landscape.”

REL West note: FutureEd has a joint publication with Attendance Works relevant to this request:

Jordan, P. (2019). The attendance playbook: Smart solutions for reducing chronic absenteeism. Full text available from


Keywords and Search Strings

The following keywords and search strings were used:

[(addressing OR reducing) AND (“chronic absence” OR “chronic absenteeism”)]

Databases and Resources

We searched Google Scholar and ERIC for relevant resources. ERIC is a free online library of over 1.6 million citations of education research sponsored by the Institute of Education Sciences.

Reference Search and Selection Criteria

When searching and selecting resources to include, we consider the criteria listed below.

  • Date of the Publication: References and resources published within the last 15 years, from 2005 to present, were included in the search and review.
  • Search Priorities of Reference Sources: Search priority is given to study reports, briefs, and other documents that are published and/or reviewed by IES and other federal or federally funded organizations and academic databases. Priority is also given to sources that provide free access to the full article.
  • Methodology: Priority is given to the most rigorous study designs, such as randomized controlled trials and quasi-experimental designs, and we may also include descriptive data analyses, survey results, mixed-methods studies, literature reviews, or meta-analyses. Other considerations include the target population and sample, including their relevance to the question, generalizability, and general quality. Priority is given to publications that are peer-reviewed journal articles or reports reviewed by IES and other federal or federally funded organizations. If there are many research reports available, we select those with the strongest methodology, or the most recent of similar reports. When there are fewer resources available, we may include a broader range of information. References are listed in alphabetical order, not necessarily in order of relevance.

This memorandum is one in a series of quick-turnaround responses to specific questions posed by educational stakeholders in the West Region (Arizona, California, Nevada, Utah), which is served by the Regional Educational Laboratory West at WestEd. This memorandum was prepared by REL West under a contract with the U.S. Department of Education’s Institute of Education Sciences (IES), Contract ED-IES-17-C-0012, administered by WestEd. Its content does not necessarily reflect the views or policies of IES or the U.S. Department of Education nor does mention of trade names, commercial products, or organizations imply endorsement by the U.S. Government.