Improving Student Attendance & Engagement


Students who are chronically absent from school, defined as missing more than 10% of school days, are more likely to fall behind and ultimately drop out. Last year, more than one in four Multnomah County students were chronically absent. Absences can signal life challenges as well as a sense of disconnection from school, with students of color and students in poverty most acutely impacted. Chronic absenteeism shows up across all grades, with higher rates in kindergarten and then escalating again in high school.



For more than five years we have partnered with local schools to track absenteeism and test interventions that keep students connected to school. Through intensive study and collaboration with partner schools, we have identified a set of core practices that any school can use to improve student attendance.

Proven Attendance Practices:

  1. Establish an effective attendance team
  2. Use real-time student-level data
  3. Make positive phone calls home before the start of the school year
  4. Hold attendance-focused student meetings
  5. Focus resources on the most chronically absent students

(Click here for tips and more detailed information about these practices)


Community Partners:

  • Home Forward
  • Multnomah County SUN Service System
  • Multnomah Education Service District
  • Oregon Department of Human Services
  • Partner school districts



Sewing Systems Together
In a breakthrough partnership with the Oregon Department of Human Services (DHS), six full-time case managers were relocated from traditional offices to partner schools, helping address the root causes of absenteeism. Today 93% of schools note that their DHS partner is positively contributing to their school attendance efforts.

Inspiring a Culture of Attendance
79% of teachers at Highland Elementary saw an increase in the percentage of students regularly attending after two months of a school-wide attendance challenge last year. The strategy
was replicated this year and rates of attendance continue to improve.



Schools can do a lot to improve student attendance, but chronic absenteeism is also a community issue. While attendance rates have shown sustained improvement across all grades in recent years, middle and high school students have begun to slip behind. Attendance protocols in schools need to be matched with supportive communities and comprehensive services. By aligning our efforts across organizations and systems, we can keep kids engaged and connected to school.


“Our work today is about building a culture of attendance in every school, then spreading the practices we tested and refined in a small handful of schools more broadly. Ultimately, our priority is to build trusting relationships with families and kids, grounded in empathy, respect and shared goals.”

– April Olson, Director of Federal Programs and Homeless Liason, Gresham-Barlow School District