Tracking Chronic Absence: Getting Ready for Prop 47 Grants or Just Setting Up for Improvement

By Deanna Niebuhr
Senior Director, Community Schools Initiatives at Partnership for Children & Youth

The Request for Proposals for the Safe Neighborhoods and Schools Fund: Learning Communities for School Success grants (through CDE, from Prop 47 savings) is expected out this March. We know from the legislation that districts with high chronic absence, out-of-school suspension, and dropout rates will be given priority when grants are awarded.

We’re suggesting that districts with high rates start compiling their data now because the proposal writing timeline is expected to be very short. For those that are not yet tracking chronic absence data, this is a great opportunity to put tracking systems in place. Whether or not you apply for a Prop 47 grant, this data is critical for making meaningful and steady improvement in student engagement and school climate, which are foundational to a whole child/community school approach.

Using your school data, the pathway to improvement can steadily be made clearer. This is especially true for chronic absence, defined as an individual student missing 10% or more of the school year for any reason (i.e. both excused and unexcused absences). Chronic absence in the early grades is highly predictive of later struggles. Research shows that chronic absence as early as kindergarten is associated with lower third grade reading scores and academic struggles as far down the road as fifth grade. This is especially true for students living in poverty and experiencing more than one year of chronic absence.(1)

Districts have been able to turn their numbers around when they have monitored chronic absence, worked with schools and families to figure out the nuances and patterns behind these absences, and then addressed the underlying issues unique to their school communities.

Attendance Works has free tools to use in tracking chronic absence. Their brief, Making Data Work in California: Leveraging Your District Data and Student Information System (SIS) to Monitor and Address Chronic Absence, lays out the basics on chronic absence and provides a checklist for setting up a tracking system.

If you have any questions about preparing for the Safe Neighborhoods and Schools Fund grant, please contact Deanna Niebuhr at


(1) Hedy N. Chang & Mariajose Romero. Present, Engaged & Accounted For: The Critical Importance of Addressing Chronic Absence in the Early Grades, National Center for Children in Poverty: September 2008.