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SMHPW Policy Recommendation 6

Student Mental Health Policy Workgroup (SMHPW) sixth recommendation to the State Superintendent of Public Instruction.

Recommendation 6: Support Expanding the Capacity of DataQuest to Provide Users with More Information about the Reasons for Student Absenteeism

Chronic absenteeism data has the potential to better inform county offices of education, school districts, and charter schools how to serve students who have mental health barriers to their education. The Student Mental Health Policy Workgroup (SMHPW) recommends an additional analysis of the chronic absenteeism data collected in the California Longitudinal Pupil Achievement Data System (CALPADS).

To help local educational agencies (LEAs) better understand the causes of chronic absenteeism, the SMHPW recommends that chronic absenteeism data be disaggregated in DataQuest by absence type: Excused, unexcused, and out-of-school suspension. This will enable districts and school attendance review boards (SARBs) to better identify and address factors contributing to chronic absenteeism, including mental health factors such as anxiety and depression, which may be the basis for excused absences from school. The goal is to identify students with mental health concerns impacting school attendance as soon as possible to provide applicable support services and interventions.

Information about the root causes for chronic absenteeism will help LEAs develop more effective strategies for reaching their Local Control and Accountability Plan (LCAP) priority goals, especially for students with disabilities and other high-risk groups. Linking certain student groups to mental health supports may be an effective strategy for reducing chronic absenteeism rates and for engaging students in school until graduation. All student groups, including students who are low-income, of color, homeless, highly mobile, juvenile justice-involved, English learners, and/or students with disabilities, benefit from improved access to mental health and other student support services, and should be linked to appropriate services.

While the analysis will better inform LEAs about the causes of chronic absenteeism in all student groups, the SMHPW is especially interested in this data for students with disabilities who may disproportionately face mental health barriers to their attendance.


California Education Code (EC) Section 60901(c)(1) defines “chronic absentee” as "a pupil who is absent on 10 percent or more of the school days in the school year when the total number of days a pupil is absent is divided by the total number of days the pupil is enrolled and school was actually taught in the regular day schools of the district, exclusive of Saturdays and Sundays." The federal definition for chronic absenteeism counts students who have missed 15 days of school for any reason during one school year rather than students who have been absent 10 percent or more of the school days.

All students should have access to engaging educational instruction and positive relationships at school, but anxiety and depression, as well as other excused absences, prevent many students from accessing the education offered through consistent school attendance. Unfortunately, many students face barriers to consistent attendance and to a positive connection with school, including mental health barriers. These barriers reduce the opportunity for students to learn and ultimately graduate from high school and become career and college ready. Effective pupil engagement and mental health resources ensure that all students recognize that they are part of the school community and assists them in overcoming barriers to learning.

Reducing California’s high chronic absenteeism rates is a priority in the LCAP. The California Department of Education is developing model practices to meet the accountability goals in attendance specified in Priority 5 of the LCAP 1. This provides an opportunity to disseminate strategies for reducing chronic absenteeism rates by linking students to appropriate mental health supports, including Home and Hospital Instruction for students with temporary disabilities due to mental or emotional conditions, as well as school-based and community-based mental health programs. Mental health supports will help many students overcome specific barriers to their regular attendance in school.

LEA strategies to reduce chronic absenteeism should be driven by data and include prevention, early intervention, and intensive intervention strategies which promote student mental health. An ambitious goal is to reduce chronic absence by 10 percent from the baseline for all significant student populations, and for the LEA overall, by providing a multi-tiered system of support that includes both student mental wellness and general health support.

The school attendance review board (SARB), established pursuant to EC Section 48320 works with schools in the district that have the greatest challenges in meeting district chronic absence reduction goals. Pursuant to EC Section 48321, the SARB includes a mental health representative and a school or county health care representative to help link students and families to mental health and other health care resources when appropriate. The county SARB also includes counseling or school social work personnel and a representative from community-based youth service centers.

1 EC Section 52060(d) defines Priority 5 as:

(5) Pupil engagement, as measured by all of the following, as applicable:

  • (A) School attendance rates.
  • (B) Chronic absenteeism rates.
  • (C) Middle school dropout rates, as described in paragraph (3) of subdivision (a) of Section 52052.1.
  • (D) High school dropout rates.
  • (E) High school graduation rates.

Questions: Rico Petrino | | 916-319-0229 
Last Reviewed: Tuesday, July 25, 2023