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

What can schools do to improve attendance?

The key functions of a School Attendance Review Team are to:
  1. Understand and monitor attendance trends.
  2. Organize the schoolwide attendance strategy.

The School Attendance Review Team’s charge is to ensure that the school adopts a comprehensive, actionable, tiered approach to improving attendance. These teams could be a new team or part of an existing site-based team (e.g., PBIS—Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports, school climate).

Organizing a School Attendance Review Team
  1. Conduct a school self-assessment.
  2. Establish a weekly meeting schedule.
  3. Define roles and responsibilities.
  4. Establish group norms.
  5. Develop a standard meeting agenda.
  6. Fill-in a tiered pyramid of students and resources.

Tips for an effective attendance team

The composition of the School Attendance Review Team will vary based on the size of the district and its resources. Ideally, the School Attendance Review Team should be composed of key school staff including the principal, assistant principal, school counselor, social worker, school nurse, school psychologist, family engagement liaison, Family Resource Center representative, attendance officer, and parents. The teams may also include community partners such as the Youth Service Bureaus, health centers, state agency staff (e.g., Department of Children and Families, Court Support Services Division), school resource officers, and others who could offer intervention and outreach support to address attendance barriers.

Getting to School Matters for 3- and 4-Year-Olds: How Public Schools Can Help
Figure Out What Works!
  • Collect and analyze attendance data for preschool students and their siblings in higher grades.
  • Use the Attendance Works Early and Often Toolkit: Showing Up in Preschool Matters
Inform and Collaborate!
  • Engage families to develop and deliver positive and culturally relevant messages about the importance of attendance in preschool.
  • Work with community-based preschool programs to implement a messaging and education campaign about the importance of attendance for our youngest learners.
Build and Expand!
  • Include preschool representation on school and district attendance teams and in preschool district attendance plans. This should include parents!
  • Work with community-based providers to gather attendance data when possible.
  • Work with local Campaign for Grade-Level Reading to incorporate preschool in your community plans. If a campaign doesn’t exist, start one!
  • Learn more from the Connecticut Office of Early Childhood (Connecticut Office of Early Childhood, 2016).

1. Understand and Monitor Attendance Trends

Use Team Time Wisely

Many times School Attendance Review Teams will spend most of their time working with students with the highest level of absences (Tier 3). This can be frustrating and time consuming.

A good use of a team’s time is to plan and implement prevention measures to ensure that good Tier 1 and Tier 2 interventions are in place to reduce the number of students who are seriously chronically absent. An existing PBIS team or school climate team may add this to its agenda.

The principal should secure the data for the school from central office and ensure that the School Attendance Review Team reviews the attendance data on a regular basis. The regular review of these reports (every 10 days) will allow school staff to know how many and which students are chronically absent. This will help determine the students who need Tier 2 and Tier 3 interventions. The School Attendance Review Team is responsible for understanding the causes of absenteeism for individual students as well as common causes for groups of students. The School Attendance Review Team may not be responsible for the Tier 2 or Tier 3 interventions, but it can identify the students and refer them to the school counselor, Planning and Placement Team (PPT), child study team, or other resource.

A regular review of the data also helps to ensure data is accurately entered in a timely manner and allows teachers and staff to quickly notice how many or which students are identified as chronically absent.

The data should help answer the following questions:

  • Is chronic absence a problem? Is it getting worse or better?
  • Is chronic absence concentrated among particular students?
  • Is it higher or lower among particular grades (including prekindergarten)?
  • Are particular subgroups of students affected (e.g., students on free or reduced lunch, English learners, siblings, students with chronic health conditions or from a particular neighborhood)?
    Tardy does not mean absent!

    A student is considered to be “in attendance” if present at school for at least half the regular school day. A student who is tardy should be marked as present if the tardy equals less than half the school day.

    What time of day marks your school’s half-way point?

    On early dismissal days and days shortened due to inclement weather, the regular day is the number of hours of school for that day. For example, if a school is only open for four hours, a student must be present for at least two hours to be considered “in attendance.”

  • What might explain some of these differences?
  • What additional information do you need to identify barriers or to put effective strategies in place?

2. Organize the Schoolwide Attendance Strategy

School Attendance Review Teams need to ensure that the school, as a whole, is systematically cultivating a culture of attendance and addressing the needs of individual students, year round. A schoolwide attendance strategy, at a minimum, includes actions in the following core areas:

  1. Engage students and families — Students are more likely to show up when they have strong caring connections to peers and adults. To motivate student attendance, schools need to create a school community that is warm and welcoming, engages students and families in the life of the school, and offers culturally competent and enriched learning opportunities. Schools should reach out to families to find out what might be preventing a student from coming to school; educate students and families about how absences can add up and result in lost learning time; empower families to help their children attend school, and offer trainings for school staff on engaging families and building productive partnerships to combat chronic absenteeism.
    Mapping your Attendance Data

    When unpacking your data, be sure to look at neighborhoods and different communities for high levels of chronic absence. Are there a lot of walkers from that community? Does it make sense to reroute a school bus to transport the students? Is it a safe walk to school? Is public transportation reliable?

  2. Address attendance barriers — If large numbers of students are chronically absent, it is likely that systemic barriers are at play. There may be multiple factors contributing to chronic absence. To figure out what the barriers to school attendance are and how they can be addressed, a school and its community partners need to be able to use attendance data, along with the insights of families, to understand what is getting in the way of students attending school. The School Attendance Review Team needs to put in place and/or modify existing policies, practices, and programs to ameliorate and address common barriers across student groups.
  3. Set goals and develop an attendance plan — A common saying is “what gets measured is what gets done.” This is particularly true with chronic absence and attendance. An essential ingredient for change is building in shared accountability for reducing chronic absence. Principals can 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. In preparation for the new school year, a schoolwide attendance plan should be developed at the end of the previous school year that includes the following elements:
    • an overview of the extent of the chronic absence issue;
    • an assessment of the school’s capacity to address the issue and implement schoolwide strategies;
    • target goals;
    • a description of the tiered intervention strategies; and
    • a performance accountability process and timeline.

Parents as Partners in Academic Success

Parents are essential partners in promoting good attendance as they have the bottom-line responsibility for setting attendance expectations for making sure their children get to school every day. Parents need to be equipped with the right information so they understand that good attendance is really a matter of providing children more and better opportunities to learn. Schools need to respect and honor families’ knowledge and potential to contribute to their children’s education and create processes that draw on the hopes and dreams of parents for a better future for their children, as well as their insights into what will help families get their children to school. Schools and communities must deliberately build systems that support family engagement.

Suggested resources:

Implement a System of Tiered Supports

Track Chronic Absence Often and Early

The best predictor of chronic absence in the current school year is poor attendance during the prior year and/ or the first month of school. Research indicates that if a student misses two or more days during the first month of school, the pattern of absence can persist, and many of those students will end the school year chronically absent.

While a strong schoolwide culture of attendance is an essential basic ingredient of academic success that should exist in all schools, it may not always be sufficient. A subset of students who are chronically absent may need higher levels of intervention. The best predictor of chronic absence in the current year is poor attendance during the prior year and/or the first month of school. Research indicates that if a student misses two or more days during the first month of school, the pattern of absence can persist, and many of those students will end the school year chronically absent. The school data should reveal whether particular populations of students, for example, incoming kindergartners or ninth-graders, or students from the same neighborhood—are at high risk.

Once a school community has identified students at high risk for chronic absence, it should look more closely at students who have a history of severe chronic absence — missing 20 percent or more of the prior school year — and why. Such severe absenteeism suggests a family or community challenge that requires additional layers of support for such issues as physical, mental, or dental health problems; homelessness; domestic abuse; or community violence. The key is leveraging the opportunity to help students on the cusp of chronic absence with lower cost, less intensive interventions, while also recognizing the need to do more for those with needs that are more serious.

The following pyramid exemplifies a multitiered approach to reducing chronic absence that begins with prevention and early intervention and only turns to interventions that are more intensive as a last resort.1 This tiered approach aligns with other approaches currently employed by school districts including Scientific Research-Based Interventions (SRBI) or Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports (PBIS).

Interventions at each tier need to be customized and tailored to different subgroups and grade levels, including prekindergarten, elementary, middle school, and high school. One of the core functions of the School Attendance Review Team is to map their students and school resources across the tiers of the pyramid using a pyramid worksheet. The following section provides some examples of strategies for each of the three tiers of intervention.


Three-tiered strategy to combat chronic absence


1. Tier 1 Interventions are universal schoolwide strategies that encourage good attendance for all students. Successful Tier 1 strategies may include:

  1. Engaging Students and Parents

    Create a school climate that encourages students to come to school every day.

    • Provide engaging curriculum that draws students to school.
    • Conduct a school climate and attendance walk through the school. Learn how with the Connecticut Welcoming Schools program.
    • Offer before- and after-school programs.
    • Create visuals (bulletin boards, banners, posters) that reflect attendance messaging and modify during the year to sustain impact.
    • Call students when they miss school and welcome them back when they return.
    • Develop a communitywide vision to ensure that programs and interventions are culturally responsive.
    • Consider specific attendance goals and strategies for students with Individualized Education Programs (IEPs), Section 504, or health care plans.
    • Use the Theory of Action from CASEL, the Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning, to implement social-emotional learning activities throughout the school day.
    • Ensure your school has opportunities for parent engagement, such as regular conversations with teachers about curriculum and student learning.

    Recognize good and improved attendance in addition to perfect attendance.

    • Create friendly competition among classrooms offering raffles, parties, and other incentives.
    • Celebrate individual progress through periodic public recognition.
    • Recognize students and parents at special assemblies.
    • Engage neighborhood businesses in promoting good attendance.
  2. Removing Barriers to Attendance

    • Provide a school breakfast program and/or food pantry to address hunger issues.
    • Conduct a safe walk to school program (walking school bus) to address safety concerns.
    • Conduct a clothing drive for winter coats or school uniform exchange.
    • Organize health interventions such as flu and dental clinics.

Bright Spot!
Connecticut Alliance of Boys & Girls Clubs

In 2015, the Boys & Girls Clubs of Connecticut, in partnership with the Charter Oak Group and the Boys & Girls Clubs of America, compared chronic absenteeism and discipline data for students participating in their programs with the general population of Connecticut students. The preliminary data was reported in a technical paper, Chronic Absenteeism and Discipline Data for Boys & Girls Club Members.

The study showed a 60 percent reduction in chronic absenteeism for youth attending Boys & Girls Club programs compared to students across the state. Among frequent club attenders, the rate of suspensions or expulsions was nearly 50 percent lower compared to their peers in Connecticut schools (The Charter Oak Group, 2015).

2. Tier 2 Interventions are individualized strategies responsive to the needs of frequently absent students. Successful Tier 2 strategies may include:

  1. Engaging Students and Parents
    • Alert families to attendance concerns through personal phone calls.
    • Implement a mentoring program. Assistance is available from the Governor’s Prevention Partnership.
    • Ensure that professional development and training is provided to administrators and staff on how to communicate with families in a way that is culturally competent.
    • Engage families in a relationship-building visit to seek solutions.
    • Enlist the Family Resource Center and other community supports.
    • Engage the school nurse or school-based health center staff to outreach to families around health issues, including students who are chronically ill or covered under Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, to ensure that needs are accommodated to encourage regular attendance.
    • Engage the assistance of the PPT for students with disabilities.
    • Recruit students as attendance ambassadors.
    • Ensure priority placement in summer and after-school programs.
  2. Removing Barriers to Attendance
    • Provide parents with family-friendly information and assistance in accessing community resources and services.
    • Implement Child Find protocols that require prompt referral to a Planning and Placement Team meeting of all children who have been suspended repeatedly or whose behavior, attendance, or progress in school has been considered unsatisfactory or at a marginal level of acceptance. This ensures compliance with Code of Federal Regulations (C.F.R.) § 300.111 that requires that all children with disabilities who are in need of special education and related services are identified, located, and evaluated.
    • Use programs that support additional student engagement with the adult staff, e.g., Check and Connect, Creating Positive Behavioral Intervention Plans, and Restorative Practices.
    • Reinforce and target behavioral supports in classroom and small group settings, through evidence-based programs, e.g., Second Step and Responsive Classroom.
    • Develop student attendance improvement plans or incorporate attendance goals in Student Success Plans to help develop strategies to support improved attendance for all students.
    • Replace out-of-school suspension policies and practices with positive behavioral supports and restorative justice programs.
    • Identify social, emotional, and physical health; transportation; or housing barriers to attendance and work with community providers such as public housing authorities, departments of transportation, and community health centers or medical personnel.
The Role of Teachers

As the first line of intervention and prevention, teachers are an especially important and trusted resource that can make attendance a normal topic in all interactions with students and parents.

  • Emphasize attendance from day one.
  • Greet students and families personally and ask about absences.
  • Engage students in tracking their own attendance.
  • Talk about attendance at back-to-school nights.
  • Contact parents early. Don’t wait for parent-teacher conferences.

Teaching Attendance: Everyday Strategies to Help Teachers Improve Attendance and Raise Achievement

Why Mentoring is Important

To improve attendance, New York City schools assigned success mentors to chronically absent students in 100 schools. Students with mentors attended school an average of nine more days than similar students at other schools.

(Resource: Relationships Matter: A Toolkit for An Elementary Success Mentor Attendance Initiative)

Bright Spot!
Mentoring can make a BIG difference!

When “Big Sister” Michelle was first matched in Big Brothers/Big Sisters of Connecticut, her “Little” had a serious issue with chronic absenteeism. She was in eighth grade and just did not want to go to school. There was no way anyone was going to change her mind.

Even though Michelle experienced car troubles and was not able to see her “Little” for a period of time, this did not stop her from being a mentor and letting her “Little” know that she is a special person and encouraging her to go to school.

Michelle called her “Little” often providing encouragement to succeed in school and to believe in herself.

After only a few months of developing a relationship together, Michelle learned that her “Little” received a “perfect attendance” award for the grading period! Perfect attendance!

Family Resource Centers Can Play an Important Role

Family Resource Centers in Connecticut are helping to reduce chronic absenteeism in their schools by:

  • serving on their schools’ Student Attendance Review Teams;
  • conducting home visits and phone calls with the school-parent liaisons or social workers;
  • providing uniforms to students who need them;
  • working with local businesses for donations that can be used as incentives for good attendance, e.g., gift cards, school supplies, movie tickets;
  • acknowledging classrooms that have perfect attendance for the prior week with a Perfect Attendance sign;
  • holding ceremonies to acknowledge perfect and improved attendance;
  • arranging field trips for students with most improved attendance;
  • coordinating a school-based mentoring program;
  • partnering with the local Youth Service Bureau to provide workshops for families on the importance of good attendance;
  • greeting parents in the morning, with the principal, before school starts and engaging in dialogue about issues related to school attendance; and
  • working with after-school providers and community childcare providers to communicate consistent messaging about attendance with parents at pick-up time.

3. Tier 3 Interventions are intense and individualized strategies for students who miss the most school. Typically, interagency collaboration and coordination is essential to helping students in Tier 3 overcome the serious challenges they face so they can be in school. Tier 3 interventions are often coordinated with other community-based service providers such as Youth Service Bureaus, Juvenile Review Boards, mental health clinics, and state agencies such as the Department of Children and Families or Court Support Services Division.

Across the country and in Connecticut, there is growing recognition that Juvenile Court is not the appropriate venue for behavioral issues such as truancy. Research and best practice indicates that any involvement with the juvenile justice system has more negative than positive impacts. Local and regional school districts are encouraged to develop locally driven truancy alternatives in partnership with community-based organizations and local foundations. Successful Tier 3 strategies may include:

  • Collaborating with a community organization, such as a Youth Service Bureau, to develop and implement community truancy prevention and intervention models.
  • Screening of students for childhood trauma and providing or connecting to effective, evidence-based treatments through KidsMentalHealthInfo. Learn more about trauma-informed initiatives.
  • Implementing a dropout prevention program such as Check and Connect or Success Mentors that has strong evidence of positive effects on staying in school. Adult mentors consistently check in with students to facilitate improved engagement in both school and the community. The program focuses on re-engagement and active student participation.
  • Referring to a Juvenile Review Board (JRB), a community-based diversion program for youths who otherwise would be referred to the Juvenile Court for minor violations of the law. The approach includes case management, a panel review meeting, and connections to appropriate services.
  • Reviewing student discipline policies to ensure that students are suspended from school only when absolutely necessary and in a systematic and equitable way.
  • Offering summer learning programs that re-engage students and parents throughout the summer months to reconnect and strengthen the relationship with school.
  • Connecting pregnant and parenting teens to health, education, and social supports to enable them to complete their education, find employment, and access childcare.
  • Referring students for support and evaluation as appropriate. For instance, if a student is struggling with anxiety or depression, the school social worker, counselor, or psychologist may be able to assist the student in addressing identified needs.
  • Using local Emergency Mobile Psychiatric Services (EMPS) providers (211) for rapid access supports to schools in addressing students’ behavioral and emotional needs.
  • Providing students access to quality online credit recovery programs.
  • Transferring to an alternative education setting that addresses the social, emotional, behavioral, and academic needs of the student.
  • Referring to System of Care Community Collaborative or to Connecticut’s Medical Home Initiative for Children and Youth with Special Health Care Needs for family support and assistance.

Note: C.G.S. Section 10-198a requires filing a Family with Service Needs (FWSN) complaint with the Juvenile Matters Division of the Superior Court for truant students. This should only be done after attempting to hold a meeting with a parent and trying to coordinate services with community agencies providing child and family services. However, Public Act 16-147, An Act Concerning the Recommendations of the Juvenile Justice Policy and Oversight Committee, eliminates a child being a truant, habitual truant, or continuously and overtly defying school rules and regulations from permissible grounds for filing a FWSN, effective August 15, 2017. See section 3 for the definition of truant.


1. Students identified as having special education needs can receive at any time tiered interventions in addition to the supports delineated in their individualized education program.