Using Attendance Data

Early education programs and their staff ideally can use the data they maintain on attendance to identify when students are starting to miss too much preschool so they can intervene as early as possible.

What works to secure and then regularly review data varies depending upon the program’s sophistication around data. Access to and policy on preschool attendance data vary widely. Pre-Kindergarten programs attached to public elementary schools may benefit from data systems used by the school district. Most Head Start classrooms have access to different sets of data and specific expectations for attendance. Some programs, though, still rely exclusively on attendance taken by hand. 

The most important thing about the data is not how you get it, but how you use it.

Once the classroom rosters have stablized, review the data at least once a month and compare months. When you spot problem patterns, look for further data. Is there any information about the reasons for the absences? Has anyone reached out to the family to express concern and see what help might be needed? Remember the habits formed in preschool can set a long-term trajectory. Help make it a positive one that leads to success in elementary school and beyond!

Managing Electronic Data Collection

Collecting, analyzing and using data to target action is central to every successful chronic absence strategy. In an average month it only takes two days of absence to be “chronically absent” making it important to have the capacity to look at absence not only by month, but also cumulatively across multiple months.

If your preschool, Head Start or public pre-K monitors attendance data electronically, it most likely has the capacity to provide you the data you want to identify students who are missing so many days they are at risk of not benefiting from your program. We recommend identifying students who are moderately chronically absent (missing 10-19 percent of program days) and severely chronically absent (20 percent or more) so you can develop adequate supports to address their needs.

Attendance Works has been encouraging major data providers to integrate chronic absence reports directly into their data systems. COPA, a technology provider for Head Start programs, has been the fastest to respond and has already integrated chronic absence reports into its system. COPA report 201 provides daily present and absent information, and a monthly tally of the percent present and percent absent by child and by classroom. Reports 241 and 241S specifically address chronic absence at the program level. This allows agencies to see the rate of chronic absence in sites or classrooms, and to identify the individual children within each chronic absence category. Future plans include the development of capacity to tally tardiness as well. We hope other data providers will soon follow their example.

Preschool Attendance Tracking Tool

In the meantime, Attendance Works is also developing a free excel-based Preschool Attendance Tracking Tool (PATT) to help programs that do not have access to data systems with built-in chronic absence reports. Similar to tools we have developed for school districts, the PATT is accompanied by a manual offering step-by-step guidance about how to download the data from any data management system. Please email if you are interested in registering for access to the PATT once it is available.

Spreadsheet Collection

Preschools that don’t have a student information system and have a modest number of children served, can also use an Excel Spreadsheet to track attendance and then calculate the percent of days missed. If needed, data can be collected by hand and then a staff person can enter it into the spreadsheet.

Collecting Data the Old-Fashioned Way

For preschools that do not yet have electronic attendance data capacity, here’s an “old fashioned” option:

  • Set up a tag board or a white board with the classroom roster and a square for each date school is open for the month.

  • Place a line or a star, or color-in the day each day each child is present. A parent volunteer or aide can help. Perhaps over time, you will allow the children themselves to do it.

The process makes your attendance roster transparent to the children and to the adults who bring them and pick them up. You can also use this to reinforce your lessons on counting, sorting, and days and dates.



Preschool is an ideal time to help children and families develop strong attendance habits.

Attendance Works urges preschool providers to monitor chronic absence in addition to average daily attendance and reach out to families when a child is missing 10 percent of the school year or just 2 days in a month.

  • Public School Settings: Most states and districts don’t require students to attend preschool, but Pre-K teachers in public schools typically take attendance everyday and enter it into an electronic system. In many cases, pre-Ks and the school districts are looking only at average daily attendance, i.e. the percentage of students who show up every day. Some are beginning to look at chronic absence, i.e. how many students are missing 10 percent or more of the school year in excused and unexcused absences.

  • Head Start Programs: Head Start programs have traditionally been asked to maintain an average daily attendance rate of 85 percent the program, that is 85 percent of the students showing up every day. Many programs also use consecutive absences, for example 3 or 4 days in a row, to trigger outreach to a family. These practices can mask very high levels of preschoolers who are chronically absence (missing 10% or more of the program).  

  • Private Preschools: Private programs have a range of policies and approaches for tracking absences. Most set their own policies and expectations for attendance. Some use computerized systems while others track with pencil and paper.