Domains to assess school attendance

What domains can be used to assess school attendance?

Jurisdictional laws, regulations, and policies determine what constitutes an absence, the definition of tardiness, the time unit for counting attendance (e.g., minutes, hours, periods, days), whether an absence is excused, and the definition of truancy. However, the following domains, defined by the National Center for Education Statistics, are typically included in assessments of school attendance:

  • Excused absence:  “A student is not present at school or at a school-endorsed or sponsored activity, but is temporarily excused from attendance because he or she: 1) is ill and attendance in school would endanger his or her health or the health of others; 2) has an immediate family member who is seriously ill or has died; 3) is observing a recognized religious holiday of his or her faith;  or 4) is otherwise excused from school in accordance with board policies .”16
  • Unexcused absence: “A student is not present at school or at a school-endorsed or sponsored activity without acceptable cause, parental knowledge, or authorization from the school administrator or his or her agent.” 
  • Truancy: A type of unexcused absence distinguished by lack of parental knowledge or excuse or lack of consent by the teacher or administrator in charge. “If a student is absent without an excuse by the parent/guardian or if the student leaves school or a class without permission of the teacher or administrator in charge, it will be considered to be an unexcused absence and the student shall be considered truant.”17

The National Center for Education Statistics has also developed an attendance code taxonomy to provide a basis for standardizing student attendance data—currently documented and coded in a number of different ways across the nation—and establish a mutually exclusive set of codes that document a student’s attendance status at any given time.6 The taxonomy includes two major categories—Attending/Present and Not Attending/Absent—then breaks those categories into approximately 16 codes that describe how the student spends his or her time, whether present or absent (e.g., present in regular instructional program; present but in disciplinary action; absent due to illness, injury or heath treatment; absent due to willfully skipping school). We know that these measures can have inherent bias and are sometimes problematic for youth of color, children in urban areas, or those that have other stressors out of their control. 18 However, monitoring school disciplinary actions can indicate trends in mental health or indicate a specific context is problematic for students.


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