How Tennessee is Addressing Chronic Absenteeism in its ESSA Plan

  • June 2, 2017
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States across the country are preparing and submitting their state plans for the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) and developing new accountability systems that, for the first time, are required to include a measure of school quality and student success. Eight of the first 13 states to submit their state ESSA plans chose chronic absenteeism as their measure of school quality and student success. Tennessee is one of those states.

The Tennessee Department of Education believes in the strong evidence that student absenteeism has a profound influence on academic outcomes and that reducing chronic absenteeism will help improve life outcomes for students. The state chose chronic absenteeism as a top priority through a stakeholder engagement process, and, beginning in the 2017-2018 school year, chronic absenteeism will be a part of district and school accountability systems in Tennessee. The measure the state has developed is called the Chronically Out-of-School Indicator, and is defined as a student missing 10 percent or more of actively enrolled days for any reason—excused or unexcused.

Tennessee is working hard to uncover the root causes of chronic absenteeism, so that it can solve them. As Lori Paisley, Executive Director of Coordinated School Health for the Tennessee Department of Education recently put it in our webinar about addressing chronic absenteeism through ESSA, “we know that chronically missing school is an indication of conditions that can be successfully addressed.”

For instance, the state is developing new approaches to treating asthma, a major cause of chronic student health issues, including providing a School Health Coordinator in each district, partnering with local asthma asthma care clinics to conduct Pulmonary Function Tests (PFTs), providing professional development and resources, and working with school nurses to ensure that all students diagnosed with asthma have an asthma action/management plan. The results are already promising. After screenings, nurses reported more inhalers were brought in, and nurses had tangible and immediate data to be able to address student symptoms. An urgent need for asthma education was uncovered and can now be addressed.

Tennessee is a great example of how including chronic absenteeism in state accountability systems will help ensure schools and districts can identify the problem and then begin the process of unpacking the root causes and addressing them.

HSC has created a number of resources to support advocates who are interested in working on state ESSA plans to make sure they support student health and wellness. Visit our State ESSA Framework resource center to download our comprehensive framework, or dig deeper into spotlight issues such as chronic absenteeism, nutrition and physical activity (coming soon) and mental health (coming soon).