Attendance & School Engagement

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Attendance has been increasingly the focus of attention among school divisions and educators. According to research1, regular attendance is a significant factor in a student’s success:

  • Chronic absenteeism correlates to low academic achievement.
  • Absenteeism is a powerful predictor of dropout rates.
  • Absenteeism has been linked to poor outcomes later in life.

Chronic absenteeism is defined as missing ten percent or more of the academic year for any reason, including excused absences, unexcused absences, and suspensions. Based on a 180-day school year, that means approximately 18 days per year or 2 to 3 days per month.

Truancy is the act of accruing one or more unexcused absences, where the parent is unaware of or does not support the student’s absence, or where the parent’s provided reason for the absence is not acceptable to the school administration.

Missed instruction, regardless of the reason, can have significant academic consequences. Therefore, the broader emphasis is on improving attendance for every student.

Addressing Chronic Absenteeism

Five basic strategies to reduce chronic absence in schools are:

  • Engage students and parents
  • Recognize good and improved attendance
  • Monitor attendance data and practice
  • Provide personalized early outreach
  • Develop programmatic response to barriers

A multi-tiered system of supports (MTSS) offers interventions for students at different chronic absenteeism risk levels. Interventions that are effective align with underlying factors contributing to absences. Underlying factors can be categorized as follows

  • Myths such as a parent’s belief that only unexcused absences are problematic.
  • Barriers such as chronic disease, lack of food or housing, and lack of access to health care.
  • Aversion due to issues such as academic difficulties, poor school climate, or being bullied.
  • Disengagement due to factors such as lack of meaningful relationships in school or lack or engaging and relevant instruction.

To comply with Virginia law and the Commonwealth’s accountability system below, local school divisions need processes to address chronic absenteeism and truancy.

Virginia Code and Regulations

Virginia Code and regulations relevant to attendance and absenteeism include the following:

  • The Code of Virginia §22.1-254 addresses compulsory attendance and exemptions to compulsory attendance.
  • The Code of Virginia § 22.1-258 addresses truancy and the intervention process.
  • Chapter 730 of the Administrative Code of Virginia consists of three sections:
    • 8VAC-20-730-10 establishes definitions as it relates to the attendance policies and the collection and reporting of truancy.
    • 8VAC-20-730-20 establishes the unexcused absence intervention process and responsibilities.
    • 8VAC-20-730-30 establishes data collection and reporting requirements.

State and Federal Initiatives

Federal initiatives to reduce chronic absenteeism began during the Obama Administration with the Every Student, Every Day initiative. The Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA; 2015) requires states to broaden school accountability beyond achievement on standardized tests and high school graduation rates by requiring at least one measure of “school quality or student success.” Many states chose chronic absenteeism as a measure in their accountability and improvement systems. In combination with Graduation and Completion Index (high schools), Dropout Rate (high schools), and College, Career and Civic Readiness (high schools), Virginia joined 36 states (PDF) to use chronic absenteeism as a School Quality Indicator to measure student engagement. Beginning with the 2018-2019 school year, the Virginia Department of Education’s Standards of Accreditation include chronic absenteeism as one of the school quality indicators.

Chronic Absenteeism and Virginia Standards of Accreditation

The Board of Education’s 2017 Standards of Accreditation (SOA) support continuous improvement for all schools, and college, career and civic readiness for all students. The revisions include graduation requirements aligned with the Profile of a Virginia Graduate and school accreditation standards that include new measures of quality and performance.

The SOA simplifies the Commonwealth’s accountability system by reducing the number of overall accreditation ratings that schools may earn. Under the new system, schools earn one of the following three ratings:

  • Accredited — Schools with all school-quality indicators at either Level One or Level Two
  • Accredited with Conditions — Schools with one or more school-quality indicators at Level Three
  • Accreditation Denied — Schools that fail to adopt or fully implement required corrective actions to address Level 3 school-quality indicators. A school rated as Accreditation Denied may regain state accreditation by demonstrating to the Board of Education that it is fully implementing all required corrective action plans.

Chronic absenteeism is calculated using a three-step process. First, a student's end-of-year membership is determined by dividing the student’s total days present, absent, and unscheduled by the total days in session for a given school. If the student's average daily membership is 50 percent or greater in a given school year, the student is included in the school’s chronic absenteeism calculation. Next, a student is determined to be chronically absent if the rate of their days absent divided by their total days in membership is greater than or equal to 10 percent. Lastly, to determine the school chronic absenteeism rate, the number of students that are absent 10 percent or more is divided by the total number of students with membership greater than or equal to 50 percent of a school’s end-of-year membership.

In the SOA, performance on this Chronic Absenteeism indicator is rated as follows:

Indicator Level One Level Two Level Three
Chronic Absenteeism 0-15 percent OR 10 percent decrease from previous year if in Level Two range 16-24 percent OR 10 percent decrease from previous year if in Level Three range 25 percent or higher OR Level Two or Three for more than four consecutive years beginning in 2018-2019
  • Level One: Schools with a current year or three-year chronic absenteeism rate 15 percent or lower (that is, no more than 15 percent of the students missing 10 percent of the school year), or schools within the Level Two range that decrease the chronic absenteeism rate by 10 percent or more from the previous year.
  • Level Two: Schools not meeting Level One performance and with a chronic absenteeism rate of no more than 25 percent, or schools within the Level Three range that decrease the chronic absenteeism rate by 10 percent or more from the previous year.
  • Level Three: Schools with a current year or cumulative three-year chronic absenteeism rate of 25 percent or higher, or schools with a Level Two or Level Three rating for more than four consecutive years beginning in the 2018-2019 accreditation year.
    • Students receiving homebound instruction are excluded from Chronic Absenteeism reporting.
    • A student must attend 50 percent of the current school year to be counted in Chronic Absenteeism reporting.

Additional information relating chronic absenteeism data can be found at Chronic Absenteeism Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) (Word).

For additional information regarding accreditation, visit the Standards of Accreditation (SOA) web page. Questions regarding state accreditation or ESSA may be submitted to and questions regarding chronic absenteeism data calculations may be submitted to

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Ginsburg, A., Jordan, P., and Chang., H. (August 2014). Absences Add Up: How School Attendance Influences Student Success. Retrieved from