Student Attendance in Tennessee
Author: Dana Brimm
This OREA report provides a thorough review of student attendance in Tennessee, including issues of chronic absenteeism and truancy. All research in the report reflects policies and procedures in place prior to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Chronic absenteeism includes all absences, excused and unexcused. A Tennessee student is chronically absent if he or she
misses 10 percent or more of instructional days (typically 18 days absent). State chronic absenteeism rates remained steady over the three years analyzed in the report, dropping slightly from 13.6 percent in 2017 to 13.3 percent in 2018 and finally to 13.1 percent in 2019. Chronic absenteeism rates were not calculated in 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic. OREA found that certain student groups, including economically disadvantaged students and students with disabilities, were chronically absent at higher rates than their peers.
Truancy includes unexcused absences only and may have legal consequences. A Tennessee student is truant if he or she accrues five unexcused absences. A 2017 state law requires schools to implement a progressive truancy intervention plan, including three tiers of supports aimed at addressing the root cause of students’ unexcused absences and reducing the number of truancy cases referred to juvenile court by effectively addressing the cases through the school system. The state does not calculate truancy rates as it does for chronic absenteeism.
OREA concluded that variation in policies and practices at the district and school levels results in the inconsistent classification of absences as excused or unexcused across Tennessee. Outside of what is specified in state law, each district (and in some cases, each school) determines through its own policies whether an absence will be excused. As a result, a student might be considered truant in one district but would not be considered truant in another. Due to lack of data and issues of local variation, OREA was unable to conduct an evaluation of truancy rates or the effectiveness of the progressive truancy intervention plan.
The report includes several policy options for the General Assembly. These include changing requirements for data collection and calculation, clarifying aspects of the progressive truancy intervention plan, and making certain attendance-related policies more uniform for all districts, schools, and juvenile courts.