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State Boards Should Explore Health-Related Causes of Chronic Absence

For Immediate Release: February 21, 2019
Contact: Renee Rybak Lang,, 703-740-4841

State Boards Should Explore Health-Related Causes of Chronic Absence

Alexandria, VA—During the 2015–16 school year, about one in seven students was chronically absent, missing at least 10 percent of school days. An early warning sign of academic risk and school dropout, chronic absence predicts school failure more reliably than test scores. To understand the drivers of chronic absence, state boards of education should examine data on student health in their state, say the authors of a new policy update from the National Association of State Boards of Education (NASBE).

Untreated asthma, dental pain, and vision and hearing deficits are among the leading causes of chronic absence. Now that the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) requires states to publicly display data on chronic absence, and with many states also including it as a measure of school success in their ESSA accountability plans, state boards are well positioned to support districts and schools as they seek to improve attendance.

A collaboration between authors at NASBE, Healthy Schools Campaign, and Attendance Works, NASBE’s analysis suggests questions for state boards to ask and actions they can take to address chronic absence. These actions are grouped by five areas of a framework developed by Attendance Works: supporting a culture of attendance through positive engagement, promoting access to actionable data, building state capacity to address health-related causes, supporting shared accountability, and catalyzing strategic partnerships between key players. For example, state boards ought to ask whether there is a common operational definition of chronic absence in use statewide and what statewide school health policies are in place, write the authors.

Some state education agencies have led the way by providing statewide guidance to districts and schools on research and best practices for addressing chronic absence. Connecticut’s guides include chapters on climate and culture; student, family, and community engagement; and school health interventions that can be implemented with ESSA funding. New Jersey’s guidance aligns with the state’s Tiered System of Support, which promotes organizing academic, behavioral, and health supports and interventions into three systems of need. California’s State School Attendance Review Board provides a handbook that helps districts and counties establish local school attendance review boards to assist families with attendance issues.

“By leveraging their convening and oversight authorities, state boards can address health -related drivers of chronic absence through policymaking, and coalition and capacity building,” write the authors. Doing so can reduce the rates of chronic absence and increase the number of students receiving consistent instruction in their states.

Read Examining Chronic Absence through a Student Health Lens.

For 60 years, NASBE has served as the only membership organization for state boards of education. A nonpartisan, nonprofit organization, NASBE elevates state board members’ voices in national and state policymaking, facilitates the exchange of informed ideas, and supports members in advancing equity and excellence in public education for students of all races, genders, and circumstances. Learn more at


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