A publication of the Association of California School Administrators
A publication of the Association of California School Administrators
iAttend LAUSD
A comprehensive multi-tiered approach to reducing chronic absenteeism
By Los Angeles Unified leadership/staff | November | December 2023
While we are firmly in a post-pandemic world, chronic absenteeism has not normalized and returned to pre-pandemic levels. The state of California defines chronic absenteeism as missing 10 percent or more of the school year. Statewide chronic absenteeism increased from 14.3 percent in 2020-21 to a staggering 30 percent in 2021-22.
Similarly, chronic absenteeism across Los Angeles Unified remains significantly high. The district is committed to reducing chronic absenteeism by implementing strategies as outlined in the 2022-26 Strategic Plan. As part of this work, LAUSD introduced the iAttend initiative, a comprehensive multi-tiered approach implemented across all district levels to support student attendance.
Attending school regularly is essential for achieving academic success. Chronic absenteeism can adversely affect a student’s academic performance, social skills and behavior in school. It also increases the risk of dropping out, which significantly impacts quality of life. (Kearny et al., 2020)
Understanding the factors contributing to chronic absenteeism is complex because absences often stem from various circumstances, not simply the presenting issue. Identifying all potential causes of student absences is vital to address the problem effectively. It is not one reason alone that causes a student to be chronically absent; it is the result of multiple factors (Allen et al., 2018, p. 740). Consequently, further exploration is required to identify the numerous causes of non-attendance. Once the factors for chronic absenteeism are gathered, school teams can provide personalized support to meet the student’s and/or family’s needs.
Los Angeles Unified has prioritized understanding and mitigating the root causes of chronic absenteeism via the iAttend initiative. Our approach to tackling student absenteeism involves multiple tiers coordinated and implemented throughout the district by utilizing a team approach. Research shows that schools that implement a Multi-Tiered System of Support approach demonstrate an impact on school attendance (Freeman et al., 2016).
Los Angeles Unified has a team of over 500 Pupil Services and Attendance (PSA) Counselors at schools, community-based agencies and regional offices. Their primary objective is to assist students who face challenges in attending school regularly due to social-emotional, home and community-related obstacles. PSA Counselors are master’s-level Child Welfare and Attendance Specialists who actively assess the needs of students. Further, they address barriers to school attendance by applying evidence-based and promising interventions, such as conducting visits to student homes in efforts to initiate assessments and tailor resources and interventions, organizing conferences with parents and students, and providing linkage to the appropriate interventions. PSA Counselors provide personalized support and eliminate barriers to ensure regular school attendance so students can reach their full potential. Los Angeles Unified is sponsoring Senate Bill 223 to authorize local educational agencies to apply to the California Commission on Teacher Credentialing to offer the Child Welfare and Attendance authorization so PSAs can more extensively serve students. With the support of ACSA and others, we remain optimistic the bill will be signed into law.
At Los Angeles Unified, we understand that to achieve significant and widespread change, multiple stakeholders from various levels must work together. In addition to the work of the PSA Counselors, we also conducted a series of iAttend Student Outreach Days throughout the 2022-23 academic year. Teams composed of district leaders, including the superintendent, cabinet and senior leadership, Student Health and Human Services professionals, board members and school teams, made home visits to students with a history of chronic absenteeism. The aim was to strengthen the connection between home and school and provide customized resources, support and linkage to improve attendance. The iAttend outreach teams conducted over 9,000 home visits and visited over 30 crisis housing centers. By offering focused support to students and families, attending school becomes the first step in building a path toward school success.
Los Angeles Unified has also launched Everyone Mentors LA, a comprehensive mentorship program that provides personalized support to students who struggled with attendance. Through this program, students with a history of chronic absenteeism were matched with a committed mentor who acts as a dependable guide and supporter throughout the academic year. The program includes mentors (superintendents, principal supervisors and other district leaders) who work closely with students and their families, fostering positive relationships, setting goals and addressing any barriers that may hinder regular school attendance. The Everyone Mentors LA program created an opportunity for Los Angeles Unified leadership to make a direct, ongoing and positive impact on students who are chronically absent. Ninety-two schools participated, supported by 93 Pupil Services Child Welfare & Attendance Counselors, 95 leaders serving as mentors and 162 total student mentees. In the 2023-24 academic year, it is our goal to expand the number of mentors in an effort to increase the number of students served by the program. We will achieve this by collaborating with vetted community and business partners who can serve as mentors to support and re-engage our nearly 27,000 students who have been identified as facing adversity.
These initiatives worked in synergy to effectively create a multi-layered approach to tackle chronic absenteeism. By providing personalized mentorship and utilizing personalized outreach efforts, Los Angeles Unified sought to create a culture of regular attendance and support students in overcoming obstacles to their education. As a result of the work of these initiatives, Los Angeles Unified reduced chronic absenteeism rates by nearly 10 percent. While attendance rates improved in 2022-23, the rates are not yet down to pre-pandemic levels. This work must continue. Therefore, for the 2023-24 school year, we will increase and amplify our efforts through “iAttend 2.0 — When Students Attend, We All Win!”
Looking ahead, expanding efforts
We launched iAttend 2.0 with a Student Outreach Day prior to the start of the new school year to assist schools that exhibited high chronic absenteeism rates during the 2022-23 school year.
In 2023-24, the iAttend Los Angeles Unified campaign is set to expand its outreach efforts. Teams of school and district personnel will systematically conduct home visits on a monthly basis to provide timely resources and interventions.
The goal of iAttend 2.0 is to maximize the district’s coherent and collaborative efforts toward promoting a shared responsibility to implement comprehensive student attendance practices, use data-driven actions, and employ early intervention strategies to identify and support students in need. Collaboration among stakeholders is crucial in promoting regular attendance.
More specifically, every school will be expected to implement seven elements (adapted from Attendance Works) to improve attendance:
  1. Maintaining accurate attendance data.
  2. Assembling a team to address attendance.
  3. Cultivating a culture of attendance.
  4. Implementing effective outreach and intervention.
  5. Creating and sustaining community partners to increase the school’s capacity to remove barriers to student attendance.
  6. Facilitating staff understanding related to student attendance.
  7. Engaging in continuous improvement practices to expand what works and modify what does not.
Training, resources, materials, and tools will be provided to district leadership and school leaders to ensure the successful implementation of iAttend 2.0.
With this plan, we inspire a vision of improving student achievement and closing opportunity gaps. These collective efforts represent our promise to our entire community that we will ensure all our students graduate ready for the world — to thrive in college, career, and life.
Allen, C. W., Diamond-Myrsten, S., & Rollins, L. K. (2018). School absenteeism in children and adolescents. American Family Physician, 98(12), 738–744.
Attendance Works. (n.d.). Resources: Self-Assessments. Retrieved from https://www.attendanceworks.org/resources/self-assessment/
Childs, J., & Lofton, R. (2021). Masking attendance: how education policy distracts from the wicked problem(s) of chronic absenteeism. Educational Policy, 35(2), 213–234.
Freeman, Simonsen, B., McCoach, D. B., Sugai, G., Lombardi, A., & Horner, R. (2016). Relationship between school-wide positive behavior interventions and supports and academic, attendance, and behavior outcomes in high schools. Journal of Positive Behavior Interventions, 18(1), 41–51.
Gregory, I. R., & Purcell, A. (2014). Extended school non-attenders’ views: developing best practice. Educational Psychology in Practice, 30(1), 37–50.
Kearney, C. A., Heyne, D., & Gonzálvez, C. (2020). Editorial: School Attendance and Problematic School Absenteeism in Youth. Frontiers in Psychology, 11, 602242