Reducing Chronic Absence in Connecticut's Schools: A Prevention and Intervention Guide for Schools and Districts

What can a district do to improve attendance?

Improving and sustaining good attendance requires the year-round (what happens over the summer matters), active engagement of district- and school-based leaders and administrators along with a clear articulation of roles and responsibilities.

Bright Spot!
Creating a culture that understands the link between attendance and academic achievement.

Administrators at Middletown Public Schools have made it a priority that all stakeholders, including administrators, teachers, students, support staff, parents, and community partners, understand chronic absence and its role in student academic achievement. To do this, they created a culture that links attendance and academic achievement by unpacking the data, providing professional development, engaging parents, and working with community providers to identify strategies to remove barriers to attendance.

Boards of Education

Boards of education have the leadership responsibility for adopting school attendance policies and procedures. Local boards of education should also foster continuous improvement and accountability by reviewing district data on chronic absence at least twice a year in conjunction with student performance and ensuring that both the District and School Improvement Plans include strategies and goals for addressing chronic absence, if necessary.

Central Office Administration

Central office administration has the leadership responsibility for ensuring the district, as a whole, is systematically addressing chronic absence, promoting and supporting a districtwide culture of attendance, and ensuring that evidence-based attendance policies and procedures are in place and implemented consistently in all schools within the district, from prekindergarten to grade 12. Central office administrators can spearhead connections with community service providers as partners in this work. The superintendent can elevate the importance of this work by designating a cabinet-level administrator to lead and facilitate the district’s attendance efforts.


Principals, as key leaders of individual schools, can work to ensure that their school adopts and implements a comprehensive, tiered approach to improving attendance in all grades, from prekindergarten to Grade 12. The principal should lead and facilitate the School Attendance Review Team.

District Attendance Review Teams

District Attendance Review Teams bring together district-level administrators and community agencies to address chronic absence across the entire district.

Public Act 15-225, an Act Concerning Chronic Absenteeism, defines the criteria for when local and regional boards of education are required to establish attendance review teams both at the district and school level. Each local and regional board of education that (A) has a district chronic absenteeism rate of ten percent or higher shall establish an attendance review team for the school district, (B) has a school under the jurisdiction of the board with a school chronic absenteeism rate of fifteen percent or higher shall establish an attendance review team at such school, (C) has more than one school under the jurisdiction of the board with a school chronic absenteeism rate of fifteen percent or higher shall establish an attendance review team for the school district or at each such school, or (D) has a district chronic absenteeism rate of ten percent or higher and one or more schools under the jurisdiction of the board with a school chronic absenteeism rate of fifteen percent or higher shall establish an attendance review team for the school district or at each such school. However, best practice recommends that district attendance review teams be established when any school’s chronic absence rate is 10 percent or higher.

The next section outlines the roles and responsibilities of the District and School Attendance Review Teams in reducing chronic absence.

The key functions of a District Attendance Review Team are to:
  1. Routinely unpack, analyze and utilize data to inform action.
  2. Organize a systemic districtwide response and policy/practice improvement.
  3. Promote shared accountability and continuous improvement.

The District Attendance Review Team could be a new team created for this purpose or an explicit function of an existing districtwide group (e.g., Scientific Research-Based Interventions, Student Assistance Team, Data Team, and School Climate Team) that has the capacity to add functions related to attendance to its responsibilities.

The District Attendance Review Team should be composed of key district individuals responsible for academic instruction, health (director of school health services or medical advisor), preschool, student supports (school counselors, social workers, pupil personnel staff, parent liaisons, attendance officers), and individuals responsible for attendance data reporting. Ideally, the team would also include school administrators and community partners (e.g., Youth Service Bureaus, Early Childhood Collaboratives, mental health or family service agencies) who can offer resources for addressing common and unique attendance barriers.

  1. Routinely Unpack, Analyze, and Utilize Data

    Districts need to produce accurate school-specific data reports (ideally every 10 days) that disaggregate student attendance data by school, grade, and subgroups such as race, ethnicity, gender, free or reduced priced meals, students with disabilities, and English learners.

    Early and Often...

    Tracking attendance and chronic absence on a regular basis throughout the school year allows districts and schools to identify stu- dents who need interventions and support services before absences add up. It is an early indicator for helping students achieve success in school!

    Attendance Works has developed and shares, at no cost, the K–5 District Attendance Tracking Tools (K–5 DATTs) and the School Attendance Tracker Tools (SATTs). Districts and schools across the nation as well as here in Connecticut use this tool with PowerSchool to analyze their data. It is a self-calculating Excel spreadsheet that pulls data from the local student information system and generates a number of reports.

    District-level data will be critical for the development of tiered intervention strategies and will allow the District Attendance Review Team to routinely monitor and understand attendance patterns and trends by addressing the following questions:

    1. To what extent is chronic and severe chronic absence an issue throughout the district and where is it concentrated?
    2. How does satisfactory attendance and chronic and severe chronic absence vary across schools, grades, subgroups, or neighborhoods?
    3. What does the concentration and scale of chronic absence suggest about likely causes of chronic absence?
    4. What is the relationship between overall attendance patterns and academic performance?
    5. What is the relationship between attendance patterns and disciplinary (e.g., suspensions) data?

    An emerging practice in several school districts across the country is to map chronic absence data so they can unpack their data by neighborhood or zip code. The District Attendance Review Team could explore partnerships with local colleges and universities to help create this visual data display.

    Attendance Categories

    Satisfactory attendance (missing less than 5 percent of school)

    At-risk attendance (missing between 5-9 percent of school)

    Chronic absence (missing 10 percent or more of school)

    Severe chronic absence (missing 20 percent or more of school)

    Actionable data analysis allows District Attendance Review Teams to identify schools that need extra support as well as discover bright spots — schools with high levels of low-income students who still have low levels of chronic absence that serve as inspirational examples for others.

  2. Organize a Systemic Districtwide Response

    District Attendance Review Teams need to ensure that the district, as a whole, is systematically addressing chronic absence and that all staff have the appropriate skills, tools, and resources to cultivate a districtwide culture of attendance. Conducting a district and community self-assessment is the first step to determine the district’s strengths, weaknesses, and areas for improvement. Attendance Works’ Tips for Developing a Community Action Plan provides details on how to engage community in developing a districtwide response.

    Ensure that student voices are part of the conversation. Facilitate surveys or conversations with students to understand from their perspective why students are not coming to school and what solutions may be used to increase attendance.

    A systemic, districtwide response should minimally include the following intervention and prevention strategies:

    Bright Spot!
    “Everyone is on the same page. Attendance is a priority for everybody.”

    The community of Vernon (not just the school district!) considers attendance at school to be of the utmost importance. Beginning with the development and implementation of the Vernon Community Plan for Children and Youth, Keeping Our Kids in Focus, all stakeholders from town hall, the superintendent’s offi childcare providers, youth services, the regional YMCA, and many others formed a partnership and a vision for a culture and expectation of attendance for every child, every day.

    – Vernon Public Schools

    1. Positive engagement — Develop a districtwide messaging and outreach campaign for parents, students, and community partners (including preschool providers) that (1) is positive and culturally relevant; (2) reinforces the importance of attendance; and (3) communicates the academic consequences of missing as few as two days of school a month. A systemic approach to implementation includes, but is not limited to, developing districtwide protocols for (1) communicating at parent-teacher conferences; (2) beginning of school year messages; (3) end of the year events; and (4) summer learning opportunities.
    2. Build capacity — Ensure that strategies for addressing chronic absence in a culturally competent manner are included in professional learning for administrators and school staff. Establish peer-learning opportunities for staff to share what is working, what common challenges they are encountering, and new evidence-based practices.
    3. Strategic Partnerships — Improve attendance by engaging the support of the entire community. Analyzing districtwide data provides a platform for forming strategic community partnerships to support broad community messaging as well as addressing common barriers to attendance (e.g., transportation, health concerns) among a variety of potential partners, including social service and health and disability-related agencies, faith-based organizations, businesses, and families.
  3. Promote Shared Accountability and Continuous Improvement

    Addressing chronic absenteeism is a continuous process that involves using data to target interventions and resources. An essential component of shared accountability is ensuring all stakeholders have a common understanding of the goals and how they will determine if they are making progress. Such goals and targets should be publicly available and broadly shared along with updates on progress to key stakeholders. Districts should:

    Bright Spot!
    Attendance Matters at All Levels

    Middletown Public Schools identified raising parental awareness of the importance of attendance as a priority for reducing chronic absenteeism. Templates were created for administrators to customize for their schools to use with families. Scripts were produced that provided positive messaging at school events to help parents understand why attendance matters and how it is linked to student success. Messages included what parents can do to ensure students regularly attend school and why this is vitally important. Superintendent Patricia Charles explained, “We want all parents to understand that school attendance matters at all levels. Whether you are a preschool student or a high school student, if you are late to school or absent, you miss valuable instruction. We constantly reinforce the message to be present and on time every day.”

    — Middletown Public Schools

    • Ensure that the local or regional Professional Development and Evaluation Committee (C.G.S. 10-220a[b]) develops a district educator evaluation and support plan that aligns with the District Improvement Plan, School Improvement Plans, and accountability plans.
    • Ensure that the educator evaluation and support plan prioritizes reducing chronic absenteeism through the processes of observation of teacher practice and performance and the development of student learning goals and objectives. Additional information can be found on the Educator Effectiveness and Professional Learning webpage.
    • Encourage and provide support for student and educator support specialists (SESS) to focus on reducing chronic absenteeism as they develop and implement their student learning goals and objectives. A Guidebook for Student and Educator Support Specialists as well as white papers and sample student learning goals and objectives for SESS can be found on the Educator Effectiveness and Professional Learning webpage.
    • Review staff attendance patterns to ensure that adults are modeling the behaviors that are expected of the students.
    • Align school withdrawal policies to C.G.S. Section 10-184, which states that the person or persons having control of a child 17 years of age may consent to a child’s withdrawal from school. This law requires that a parent or guardian personally appear at the school district office to sign a withdrawal form. The withdrawal form must include an attestation from a guidance counselor or administrator that the district has provided information on education options available in the school system and community. Additional information can be found in the CSDE circular letter, Mandatory Student Withdrawal Age from School.
    • Set realistic and achievable target goals. Districts should consider setting targets based on what is realistic and achievable. Setting a goal of 10 to 20 percent reduction from baseline in the first year is recommended, based on the strength of the implementation efforts in place, and a 10 percent reduction each year thereafter. A school or district may decide to start with particular grades vs. the whole school depending on the data and their capacity.

    The District Attendance Review Team should also be prepared to tell the story behind the data if results are different — positive or negative — from the goals established for the time period.

Next Generation Accountability System

The Connecticut State Department of Education launched the Next Generation Accountability System, a new, broader set of performance measures to capture a more holistic, multifactor perspective of how schools and students are performing. Chronic absenteeism is Indicator 4 in this new system. The chronic absenteeism indicator is applicable to all districts and schools with at least one grade between kindergarten and grade 12, inclusive. Reports and guidance for districts and schools are available on the School and District Accountability webpage. These reports can help schools and districts use data to target interventions and resources.

Guidance for addressing chronic absenteeism is provided in Using Accountability Results to Guide Improvement. In addition, the CSDE Office of Student Supports has launched the Reducing Chronic Absenteeism in Connecticut Schools webpage to support this work in districts and schools.

Bright Spot!
Building on the Success of Others!

The Consolidated School District of New Britain is nationally recognized for its work to address chronic absence.

Early on, district administrators learned from their data that there were very high levels of chronic absence in kindergarten and grade 1. In fact, almost half the chronically absent students in the district were attending elementary school. New Britain created strategies to address the issue that over time have led to significant reduction of chronic absenteeism in its elementary schools. In the 2012-13 school year, chronic absence rates in grades K-8 were reduced from 20 percent to 13 percent. The rate of chronic absence for kindergartners decreased from 30 percent to 18 percent (Chang, Russell-Tucker, & Sullivan, 2016).

Learn more about the strategies that New Britain implemented in Kappan magazine’s October 2016 article, Chronic early absence: What states can do, which also features the cross-sector collaboration and work that has been done at the state level in Connecticut to reduce chronic absence.