With the second release of national data on chronic absence from the Office for Civil Rights for the 2015-2016 school year, we now know that over 8 million students across the country are chronically absent. This puts an unacceptable number of tomorrow’s workforce off-track to read proficiently by third grade and for early school success overall.

Starting as early as preschool and kindergarten, chronic absence can leave third graders unable to read proficiently, sixth graders struggling with coursework and high school students off track for graduation. Chronic absence is especially problematic among students living in poverty who are most likely to have poor attendance over multiple years and least likely to have the resources to make up for the lost time in the classroom. In some communities, chronic absence affects more than one out of four children.

If schools, school districts, and states are to improve educational achievement and, in particular, the sentinel measure of 3rd grade reading proficiency, they will need to address chronic elementary absenteeism. To do so effectively, they will need more and better data. They will need to know how many, and which, students are chronically absent. In Southwest Virginia, chronic absence is defined as missing 10 percent of the school year for any reason, about 18 days in most school districts, or about 2 days a month, excused or unexcused.

In partnership with the Campaign for Grade-Level Reading, United Way of Southwest Virginia is pleased to announce our support for Region VII’s school districts by offering two tools to help implement and encourage each district’s schools attendance efforts.

The first: $2,500 mini-grants for each school district to engage the entire school system around the initiative of reducing Chronic Absence.

The second: this online Attendance Resource Compass.  The Compass provides easy access to local, regional, and state information, data, messaging, and tools in support of the new accreditation chronic absence rating standards enforced by the Virginia Department of Education.

We hope these supports will be simple yet powerful ways to help our schools, parents, and students in Southwest Virginia navigate chronic absence prevention and intervention.

System-Wide Resources:

Key Messages Around Chronic Absenteeism

Tips for Starting Your Attendance Initiative

Best Practice Model Documentation: Smyth County Public Schools

Why Attendance and Chronic Absence?


Superintendent Resources:

Principal/Attendance Team Resources:

Health Resources:

Teacher Resources:

Parent Messaging:

Student Messaging:

Civic Leaders/Business/Community Messaging: The Case for Chronic Absence

Key Research:

National and State Resources:


Carolyn Koesters
Childhood Success Coordinator
Phone: 276-525-4114
Fax: 276-525-8484

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About our work in Education

United Way of Southwest Virginia is fighting for the education of the region by making sure children and youth can start school ready to succeed, become proficient readers at a young age, stay on track in middle school, earn their high school diploma, and pursue a higher education or career.