Policy Recommendations


  1. Modernize the state’s student attendance records collection system.

    First raised back in 2013, this recommendation remains critical to the state’s long-term success for reducing absenteeism. California needs a statewide infrastructure to track and monitor attendance data that schools and districts can access in real-time.

    Access to statewide attendance data will provide the following significant benefits to local educators:

    • Efficient real-time and longitudinal monitoring: Statewide data will allow teachers, schools and districts to more efficiently monitor attendance throughout the school year and from year to year, to track chronic absence by subgroup and grade, and to monitor whether absence rates are improving statewide at the school- and district-level over time; Learn more
    • LCAP coordination: Statewide data will help districts and counties more effectively utilize their LCAPs by ensuring that they have accurate student-level chronic absence data and are able to establish ambitious and obtainable LCAP goals, monitor progress and change course if necessary; and
    • Help for mobile students: Statewide data will allow districts to more systematically support students with a history of attendance problems who transfer from one school district to another. In our 2014 report, less than half the districts reported having a system in place to alert receiving schools when a student transferred from district to district. This year, the number of districts with such a system has increased to 59% of those surveyed (149 districts, including those who rely on the student’s cumulative file).12 Yet, 54% of districts still report that having access to attendance histories for new students entering the district would help them improve their efforts to track, monitor, and address truancy and chronic absences.3 As noted in our 2014 report, high mobility students tend to be at greater risk for chronic absence and are therefore most disadvantaged by districts’ difficulty in obtaining attendance histories. Longitudinal state attendance data would resolve this issue.
  2. Track and monitor attendance goals through LCFF and District LCAPs.

    LCAPs act as a local accountability system that ensures districts and schools are properly monitoring student attendance. This year’s LCAPs showed marked improvement in attention to attendance when compared to 2014. Yet, many districts still failed to disaggregate chronic absenteeism, suspension, and expulsion data by subgroups.4 This may be due to a lack of necessary data collection and analysis that would enable districts to disaggregate data by subgroups.5 School districts and counties should continue to improve their attendance goals in their LCAPs to ensure that at-risk students and families get the resources they need to reduce absences. You can find suggestions in the Attorney General’s Sample LCAP.

  3. Include chronic absence as a metric in the state’s multiple measures accountability system and in the LCAP Evaluation Rubric.

    Research demonstrates that chronic absence is an important metric for California’s school accountability system. There is a strong link between elementary school chronic absence and later academic performance:

    • In California, 83% of students who are chronically absent in kindergarten and first-grade are unable to read proficiently by third grade.6
    • Compared to peers with average attendance, chronically absent first-graders scored 15% lower on literacy assessments and 12% lower on math assessments.7
    • • Low-income kindergartners and first-graders suffered twice the negative academic impact of chronic absence compared to their chronically absent peers.8

    Indeed, early elementary school absences lead to later absences. A longitudinal study in Baltimore found that nearly all chronically absent high school students were also chronically absent when they were in elementary school,9 and a study in Chicago found that among low-income elementary school students who already missed 5 days of school, each additional absence decreased the student’s chance of graduating by 7%.10

    Adopting elementary school absenteeism as a metric in the state’s new multiple measures accountability system11 and in the LCAP Evaluation Rubric12 would serve the State Board of Education’s goal of encouraging local educational agencies to establish early warning systems.13

  4. Use Prop 47 – the Safe Neighborhoods and Schools Act – savings to fund effective attendance improvement efforts.

    Prop 47 reduces the criminal penalties for several non-violent, non-serious drug and property crimes.14 It also requires that the funding saved as a result of the changes in these penalties be used to provide mental health and substance use services, truancy and dropout prevention in the K-12 setting,15 and services for crime victims. To align with LCFF goals, the Legislative Analyst’s Office recommends that the Legislature allocate the 25% of Prop 47 funds committed to truancy and dropout prevention to school districts with the largest number of English Learners and low-income students—students at a higher risk for truancy, dropout, and victimization.16 These funds should also be spent on the kind of prevention and early intervention efforts highlighted in this report as best practices to decrease chronic absence and reduce disparities in both attendance and student discipline practices.

  5. Intervene early to help students and families resolve attendance issues before kids fall too far behind.

    Many school districts and counties have improved their systems for tracking, monitoring and addressing attendance problems to promote early intervention. These efforts must be expanded. All California districts should implement systematic reviews of attendance data—early and often—so that students do not miss excessive days of school before anyone notices. Attendance problems are an early warning sign that families need greater support. Schools and districts should intervene early and connect families to services before resorting to prosecution or more punitive intervention methods.

  6. Promote early elementary school attendance.

    State policymakers should enact policies to foster improved attendance in the early years, where we observe the greatest rates of chronic absence and greatest disparities for vulnerable children. Policies such as universal pre-kindergarten, full-day kindergarten, transitional kindergarten, and mandatory kindergarten show promise for improving attendance and decreasing achievement gaps. Learn more about these policy recommendations in our section on early attendance.

  7. Invest in discipline policies that reduce time away from the classroom.

    Discipline policies that unnecessarily and disproportionately remove students from the classroom cause students to lose valuable instructional time. Many of the students with the highest suspension rates are in need of the greatest academic support—support they are unable to access when they are removed from the classroom. We have seen signs of progress in this year’s report—over 25% of districts reported changing their discipline policies in the 2013-2014 school year so that students did not miss as much school for suspensions.17 An additional 25% of districts reported making this change in the 2014-2015 school year.18 In addition, in September 2014 California became the first state in the nation to ban the use of the “willful defiance” charge to suspend or expel students in kindergarten through third grade.19 The “willful defiance” offense was disproportionately used to suspend and expel African American and Latino students, particularly boys.20 California must continue to invest in new strategies to reduce the number of school days students miss due to suspensions and to reduce disproportionality in the high rates of suspension among students of color, particularly boys.

  8. Design and implement programs to communicate to parents and the community that elementary school attendance is important, and that absences can have long-term consequences.

    This policy recommendation was mentioned in both the Attorney General’s 2013 and the 2014 Report. Its importance bears repeating. Part of the truancy and chronic absence crisis is driven by misconceptions about the importance of elementary school attendance and the negative consequences that can, and oftentimes will, follow from early absenteeism. The Attorney General’s Office, along with many partners across the state and nationally, has been working to raise awareness. Districts interested in learning more about how to communicate effectively about the importance of elementary school attendance should look at resources from our Ad Council partnership, Attendance Works, and the California Department of Education.

  1. In School + On Track 2014.
  2. 2015 District Leadership Survey.
  3. Id.
  4. 2015 LCAP Review
  5. LCFF & LCAP Learn More Section
  6. Alan Ginsburg, Phyllis Jordan, & Hedy Chang. Absences Add Up: How School Attendance Influences Student Success (Sept. 2014), at 14.
  7. Douglas Ready. Socioeconomic Disadvantage, School Attendance, and Early Cognitive Development: The Differential Effects of School Exposure, Sociology of Education 83(4) (2011), at 271¬–286.
  8. Hedy Chang and Mariajosé Romero . Present, Engaged and Accounted For The Critical Importance of Addressing Chronic Absence in the Early Grades, National Center for Children in Poverty (NCCP): The Mailman School of Public Health at Columbia University (2008), at 8.
  9. See generally Faith Connolly and Linda Olson. Early Elementary Performance and Attendance in Baltimore City Schools’ Pre-Kindergarten and Kindergarten, Baltimore Education Research Consortium (2012).
  10. S. R. Ou, & A. J. Reynolds . Predictors of Educational Attainment in the Chicago Longitudinal Study, School Psychology Quarterly, 23(2) (2008), at 199.
  11. California State Board of Education Approves Suspension of State’s Accountability Measurement System, CALIFORNIA DEPARTMENT OF EDUCATION (March 11, 2015).
  12. Evaluation Rubrics Update, CALIFORNIA DEPARTMENT OF EDUCATION (March 2015),
  13. State Board Sets Principles and Timeline for Developing State Accountability System, CALIFORNIA STATE BOARD OF EDUCATION (July 9, 2014).
  14. Cal. Gov. Code §§ 7599 et seq. (2015); Cal. Penal Code §§ 459.5, 473, 476a, 490.2, 496, 666, 1170.18 (2015); Cal. Health & Safety Code §§ 11350, 11357, 11377 (2015). For the full text of Proposition 47 (Safe Neighborhoods and Schools Act of 2014, Cal. Gov. Code §§ 7599-.2 (2014)).
  15. Cal. Gov. Code § 7599.2(a)(1).
  16. Mac Taylor, Legislative Analyst. The 2015-2016 Budget, Implementation of Proposition 47, February 2015.
  17. 2015 District Leadership Survey.
  18. Id.
  19. AB 420, ch. 660, 2014 Cal. Stat. 92, 92 (codified as amended at Cal. Ed. Code § 48900), leginfo.legislature.ca.gov/faces/billNavClient.xhtml?bill_id=201320140AB420.
  20. The Case for Reducing Out-of-School Suspensions and Expulsions, CALIFORNIA SCHOOL BOARD ASSOCIATION (April 2014).