The recent shift in federal education policy prompted by the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) has helped raise the stakes for schools around student absences. Under ESSA, at least 37 states are now looking at school-level chronic absence rates as their non-academic indicator in their ESSA plans. The implications of this are important. Previous policies assumed that parents were primarily responsible for attendance and answerable to absences. Now in many states, state policy indicates that absenteeism is an issue that schools have to address.
What, then, are schools to do in order to move the needle on student attendance? As researchers work toward understanding the impact of different interventions and practices, on-the-ground experiences in schools highlight the pervasive use of incentives from pre-kindergarten to grade 12. Schools have employed a wide range of incentives to improve attendance, with varied levels of success, according to senior researchers Rekha Balu at MDRC and Stacy Ehrlich at NORC at the University of Chicago.
In their article published February 2018 in JASPER, Making Sense out of Incentives: A Framework for Considering the Design, Use, and Implementation of Incentives to Improve Attendance, Balu and Ehrlich provide a framework to help school staff think about how—and when—to use incentives to improve student attendance. A number of other earlier research studies show the negative impact chronic absence has on student academic achievement.