Key Concepts for Leveraging Chronic Absence During the Coronavirus Pandemic

During the coronavirus pandemic, taking attendance daily and monitoring when students miss too much school is more essential than ever. 

(Communicating with your school community in clear and simple language about when students should stay home due to Covid-19 exposure, illness or quarantine is key to creating a safe and welcoming school environment. Learn more from our blog post Communicating with Families During the Pandemic.)

The pandemic has exposed the harsh reality that many students and families are living paycheck to paycheck, with limited access to sufficient food, stable housing or health care, and no savings to fall back on after a sudden loss in income. Distance learning has also shown that many families don’t own a computer or lack quality internet service so children can benefit from virtual learning. The disproportionate impact of the coronavirus on Black, Hispanic and Native American communities illustrates the long-term health effects of unequal access to resources due to structural and institutional racism.

Monitoring when students miss opportunities to learn – whether offered in person or through distance learning – is an invaluable tool for strengthening the efforts of educators, community partners and families to reduce the adverse impact of this pandemic on the country’s more than 55 million school children.

Using Chronic Absence To Identify Systemic Solutions

At its core, chronic absence measures when students miss so much school they are at risk of not being prepared for kindergarten, learning to read by third grade, failing courses in middle school and dropping out of high school. 

High chronic absence levels signal the need for additional outreach and engagement along with extra support for individual students as well as investments to address systemic problems that affect groups of students. The best results occur when there is an intentional effort to avoid blaming students and families for the lack of attendance or participation.

A high level of chronic absence alerts schools, community partners and families that one or more positive conditions for learning are not in place. When these four conditions for learning – physical and emotional health and safety; a feeling of belonging, connection and support; academic challenge and engagement; and adults and peers with social emotional competency – are in place, students are more likely to attend school. (Learn more about the connection between conditions for learning and chronic absence here.

Data on chronic absence and lack of participation in school are clear indicators of where to invest outreach and support and address gaps in implementing  a comprehensive tiered approach to improving student attendance and engagement.

Expanded Framework for Monitoring Attendance 

Investing in the Transition Back To School 

As schools and communities develop and implement their plans for addressing the academic and social impact from disrupted learning, putting in place meaningful ways to engage students and their families is critical to addressing the significant absenteeism, enrollment declines and educational inequities exacerbated by the pandemic. See Pathways to Engagement: A Toolkit for Covid-19 Recovery Through Attendance, which offers a framework, tools and resources for how to forge pathways to engagement, especially for those who have lost out on significant instructional opportunities during the pandemic.

Some students and families have not been in touch with their schools during the pandemic. Finding and connecting to these families remains crucial. We've developed a list of ideas and strategies for making this connection.

Strategies for Connecting with Students and Families

Keep in mind that federal Covid-19 relief funds can be used to support these kinds of activities. For more information on how to use federal dollars for attendance and engagement activities, read our blog post.

These concepts now guide the development of Attendance Works materials. We will update this page as we learn more. Revised August 4, 2021