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BOSTON -- Wednesday, May 24, 2023 -- While school absenteeism rates soared across the state and country during the pandemic, the Boston Public Schools' work to combat chronic absenteeism in the district has begun to yield positive results, with a 7% decline in chronic absenteeism across the district, with even bigger gains for students of color and students with disabilities. 


"While we are encouraged by the progress we have made, we are still deeply concerned about chronic absenteeism," said Superintendent Mary Skipper. "We are taking a comprehensive approach to students struggling to attend school regularly and are devoting resources to support the many issues that keep them from attending. Chronic absenteeism, especially since the pandemic, is a complex issue with many factors that can contribute to it, from homelessness to health challenges and mental health struggles. We are focused on building strong relationships and establishing deeper connections with students and families that help to inform and show how important each day of attending school is for our students."


Compared to the 2021-2022 school year, there have been significant improvements, but the chronic absenteeism rate is still more than 50% high than pre-pandemic levels, with more than a third of young people being chronically absent.


It is important to note that chronically absent students are predominantly those with the highest needs, including those from low-income households, English learners, and students with disabilities. Research consistently shows that students with chronic absenteeism face academic challenges, lower graduation rates, and decreased social engagement.


"It is so important for our young people to be in school," said Boston School Committee Chairperson Jeri Robinson. "While these numbers are encouraging, we cannot stop working to bring down chronic absenteeism."


To address this pressing issue, the Boston Public Schools has developed a comprehensive approach based on guiding principles focused on improving school attendance:


  • School Attendance Structure: The district is establishing effective school attendance teams and implementing strong prevention and intervention strategies tailored to different tiers. This includes addressing various factors that impact attendance, such as culture and climate, health and well-being, and overall attendance awareness.

  • Consistent Attendance Outreach and Intervention Practices: BPS emphasizes the importance of relationship mapping to foster a sense of belonging among students and families. Consistent follow-up measures are implemented to ensure engagement and accountability.

  • Quality School Plan (QSP) Implementation: BPS is committed to developing action plans aligned with each school's strategic vision. The district provides regional support teams consisting of various specialists to remove barriers, build capacity among school leaders and their teams, and ensure effective attendance systems and structures are in place.


In line with these efforts, BPS is adding a supervisor of attendance to each region, further enhancing support, monitoring, and elevating school-based attendance systems to meet the needs of students effectively.


Moreover, the district has implemented the Panorama Student Success Platform, is a platform that facilitates educators’ access to data, to foster a collaborative, anti-racist, and asset-based approach to a multi-tiered system of support, to create attendance plans for students. Students with attendance at or below 80% are provided with Tier 3 plans in Panorama, involving intensive collaboration and ongoing monitoring. The focus is on quality and personalized support, targeting students who require a high-touch, team-based approach.


Recognizing the need for a shift in approach, BPS has transformed its attendance letters to be more student-centered and relationship-based and no longer punitive in approach. The new letters aim to establish partnerships with families and promote transparent data sharing. Taking inspiration from behavioral science, BPS has incorporated the principles of nudge theory into attendance letters, leveraging evidence-based interventions to encourage consistent attendance. This approach has shown promising results in reducing chronic absenteeism in other large urban school districts.


"We are committed to ensuring that every student has the opportunity to thrive and succeed in school," said Brian Marques, Senior Director of Opportunity Youth. "By implementing targeted strategies, fostering strong relationships, and providing comprehensive support, we aim to address chronic absenteeism effectively. Our goal is to create an inclusive and supportive environment that promotes regular attendance and maximizes student engagement and achievement."


BPS remains dedicated to its mission of providing an equitable and quality education to all students, and the district is actively working to address the challenges posed by chronic absenteeism. By implementing evidence-based interventions and fostering collaboration among students, families, and school communities, BPS is striving to create a brighter future for Boston's students.