A class room at Dunbar High School, July 8, 2009. (Katherine Frey/The Washington Post)

THE D.C. school system’s efforts to reduce truancy are paying off: Attendance has improved notably. But appalling numbers of students — particularly in high school — are still chronically absent. Officials must intensify their efforts to figure out which practices are effective and which may be counterproductive.

Nearly half of high school students — 48 percent — were considered “chronically truant” last year, having had 10 or more unexcused absences, according to school officials. As abysmal as that number is, it actually was a marked improvement over the previous year’s 63 percent. Truancy for middle schools dropped from 35 percent in 2012-2013 to 12 percent last year, while there was a 1 percentage point drop in truancy for the elementary grades.

The improvement, according to school officials, resulted from a new emphasis on the issue; schools set attendance goals and established teams to implement new strategies. That the system finally started to pay attention to a long-standing, deep-seated problem is due, in some part, to pressure from the D.C. Council, which passed legislation in 2013 toughening rules and requiring certain interventions by school officials.

Lawmakers were right to hold the system’s feet to the fire on this critical issue, but some provisions of the legislation may end up impeding the most useful efforts. A report released this week by the Children’s Law Center and D.C. Lawyers for Youth faulted an approach it characterized as punishing rather than solving the problem. “Students miss school for many reasons, and a thoughtful approach is necessary,” the report said. “Unfortunately, the District’s current efforts to increase school attendance are not guided by evidence and ultimately fail students.”

Does it, for example, make sense to mark as absent students who are late to school? Does that classification lead to students inappropriately being referred to Child Protective Services or taken to court? And are the administrative burdens of filling out the paperwork required by the new law diverting resources from finding out — and doing something about — the reasons students are missing school in the first place? The issues are complicated with no easy answers. It is encouraging that David Grosso (I-At Large), the new chair of the council’s education committee, has signaled a willingness to revisit the law and determine, in collaboration with school officials, if adjustments are needed.