State Leaders Introduce Legislation to Promote Consistency in Attendance Policies and Reduce Chronic Absenteeism Statewide

Published on Thursday, May 09, 2024

PROVIDENCE, R.I. -- In alignment with the #AttendanceMattersRI campaign, House Education Chair Joseph McNamara has introduced legislation put forth by the Rhode Island Department of Education (RIDE) and supported by Governor Dan McKee that aims to ensure consistency in attendance policies and curb chronic absenteeism statewide. The bill will be discussed at this afternoon's House Education Committee meeting.  

Developed by RIDE in collaboration with the statewide Chronic Absenteeism Working Group and other education stakeholders, the Attendance for Success Act (H 8190) outlines amendments to existing state laws around student attendance. The legislation defines terms related to attendance, establishes criteria for excused and unexcused absences, outlines procedures for reporting absences, and requires schools to develop intervention plans for students who are chronically absent. Additionally, the bill seeks to enhance collaboration between schools, families, and community organizations to address attendance issues.   

“Improving student attendance is vital to ensuring that every child has the opportunity to succeed in school and beyond,” said Governor Dan McKee. “My administration is supportive of this legislation, which represents our collective commitment to promoting regular attendance and improving academic outcomes across Rhode Island.” 

“Students who are frequently absent are far more likely to miss important learning opportunities, are less likely to stay engaged, and are of far greater risk of dropping out,” said Representative McNamara (D-Dist. 19, Warwick, Cranston). “School absenteeism has become a national crisis, with impoverished families suffering the most. This has become such an educational priority that we need to find more creative ways to address the problem.” 

Research shows that chronic absenteeism, defined in Rhode Island as missing 10% or more of the school year (typically 18 days or two a month), is associated with a number of negative consequences for students, including lower achievement, disengagement from school, course failure, and an increased risk of dropping out. Significant performance gaps exist for students who are chronically absent. Chronically absent students, on average, performed lower than their not chronically absent peers by 19.9%-26% on 2023 assessments. In the wake of the pandemic, when chronic absenteeism soared nationwide, Rhode Island launched the #AttendanceMattersRI campaign to inform stakeholders of the importance of daily attendance and the consequences of chronic absenteeism, and energize students, families, and educators to promote good attendance.  

“Through RIDE's ongoing engagement with the Statewide Chronic Absenteeism Working Group and stakeholders from schools, districts, and communities across the state, it has become increasingly clear that without uniformity, schools face challenges in effectively addressing attendance issues, leading to disparities in interventions and support systems,” said Commissioner Angélica Infante-Green. “The Attendance for Success Act aims to create a level playing field where all schools can implement evidence-based strategies and interventions with confidence, ultimately fostering a more equitable educational landscape where every student has the opportunity to succeed. RIDE is proud to put forth this legislation and we are grateful to Governor McKee, Representative McNamara, and all engaged with #AttendanceMattersRI for the continued support.” 

Approximately 93% of schools are currently reporting fewer students chronically absent or on track to be chronically absent compared to the same time last year. During the 2022-2023 school year, approximately 28.9% of Rhode Island students were chronically absent, which represents a 5 percentage point decrease from 2021-2022. The percentages of chronically absent students are even greater in Rhode Island’s urban core (Central Falls, Newport, Pawtucket, Providence, Woonsocket), where between 64% to 83% percent of students are economically disadvantaged and were most impacted by the pandemic. 

Under the Attendance for Success Act, local education agencies (LEAs) will be required to maintain an attendance policy that, among other actions: establishes an early warning system that includes evidenced-based metrics to identify students at risk of chronic absenteeism; employs an attendance improvement plan that focuses on assisting families in removing barriers to good attendance; and encourages appropriate data sharing between schools and community-based organizations for the purpose of providing more personalized interventions and specialized student supports. Beginning in the 2025-2026 school year, schools with a 5% chronic absenteeism rate schoolwide or within a student subgroup would be required to develop an attendance improvement plan as part of the school’s strategic plan or school improvement plan. All schools, regardless of chronic absenteeism rate, will develop and implement a whole-school absence prevention strategy. 

RIDE this year launched new and enhanced RIDE data tools that provide a comprehensive overview of attendance and absenteeism rates across a variety of demographics and feature real-time reporting capabilities and interactive visualizations. With detailed data analysis, schools and other stakeholders can pinpoint the students most at risk of chronic absenteeism and develop targeted interventions to address their unique needs. Additionally, RIDE staff, in partnership with the Governor’s Innovation Office, developed the Attendance Tool in 2018. Unique to this suite of tools is the Attendance Nudge, a mobile application that allows principals to communicate with families when student absences become a concern. Piloted in East Providence, the Attendance Tool is now used in more than 280 schools across 63 school districts. 

Further, to curb chronic absenteeism, Commissioner Infante-Green convened the Chronic Absenteeism Working Group, which is made up of a diverse body of stakeholders from various sectors, including but not limited to education, health, government, business, and community organizations. The group has provided valuable insight into school and district-level attendance policies and highlighted the urgency of implementing comprehensive policies statewide. 

An accompanying Senate bill is expected to be introduced. If passed, the Attendance for Success Act will go into effect August 1, 2024.