TregoED Blog

Band-Aids Won’t Solve Chronic Absenteeism

As schools strive for continuous improvement on key academic goals and to meet ESSA standards, attendance surfaces as an issue that may seem to be an easy fix at first glance.  However, it is the “the scope of attendance problems that schools encounter and the depth and diversity of student needs” that make solving the problem of chronic absenteeism complex and difficult. However, no matter what the cause, in general, students who are chronically absent have worse education outcomes.

 “No matter what the cause” is the matter! 

In April 2018 Brookings, a nonprofit public policy organization that conducts in-depth research that “leads to new ideas for solving problems facing society at the local, national and global level” came out with a strategy paper for addressing the issue of chronic absenteeism, Reducing Chronic Absenteeism under the Every Student Succeeds Act.

Their recommendation to tailor intervention strategies based on the circumstances and unique needs of the students, requires that districts understand what is likely to make a child chronically absent or a school to have a high chronic absentee rate.  They see high stakes accountability (ESSA) combined with a school-level tiered approach as an “evidence-based strategy for increasing attendance and improving student outcomes.”

Sounds good.  But the question you need to answer still remains – “Why are we seeing attendance problems in our school or district?” If the norm is to expect regular attendance, then a deviation from that expectation cries out for using a process to determine the root cause(s).  Problem Analysis provides a framework which not only clarifies what information is needed but organizes the data, so we can make sense of it.

Problem Analysis Framework

The Problem Analysis framework is built on these steps:

  1. State the problem:  What is an acceptable level of attendance?  What is the current level?
  2. Organize the data: What data do we have about where we are (and are not) seeing attendance issues – by grade level, school, etc.?
  3. Look for probably causes: What are some possible causes for the attendance problems we are seeing?
  4. Vet Possible Causes: Do these possible causes account for the data we have – do they make sense given what we know about the problem?
  5. Ensure that we have found true cause: Before we make changes, how can we validate that we have indeed identified true cause.

In order to increase attendance and improve student outcomes, for individual students or school-wide, you must get to the root the problem. Without ensuring solutions address root cause, you end up spending time and money on band-aids – not lasting and effective solutions.