Key Concepts for Leveraging Chronic Absence During the Coronavirus Pandemic
Although chronic absence is being waived as an accountability metric in response to the coronavirus pandemic, monitoring when students miss too much school is more essential than ever. Broadly defined, chronic absence measures when students miss so much school they begin to fall behind, and indicates that they need additional engagement and support. Monitoring when students miss opportunities to learn – whether offered in person or remotely – 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.
Attendance Works has developed a multi-phase framework (see image below) to assist educators and their partners think strategically about supporting students and families from now through the time schools reopen. Most states and districts are now in the midst of Phase 2, Outreach After School Closure, or are entering Phase 3, Support and Engagement During Closure. How well schools connect with students and families during these two phases will significantly affect their readiness for Phase 4, Transition back to School.
Embedded across the four phases are strategies for using chronic absence and other data to address the deep systemic inequities exposed and exacerbated by the coronavirus. The crisis lays bare 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 also shines a spotlight on the many families who don’t own a computer or lack quality internet service so children can benefit from virtual learning. The disproportionate impact of the coronavirus on African Americans illustrates the long-term health effects of unequal access to resources due to racism. Chronic absence has always been, and still is, a sign that students and their families struggle with these challenges.
Some students and families have not been in touch with their schools during the pandemic. We've developed a list of ideas and strategies for making this connection.
Strategies for Connecting with Students and Families
At its core, chronic absence measures when students miss so much school they are at risk of not learning to read by third grade, failing courses in middle school and dropping out of high school.
A high level of chronic absence alerts schools, community partners and families that of one or more of positive conditions for learning are not in place. When these four conditions for learning – physical and emotional health and safety; a sense of belonging, connection and support; academic challenge and engagement; and adults and peers with social emotional competence – are in place, students are more likely to attend school. (Learn more about the connection between Conditions for Learning and chronic absence here.)
High chronic absence levels also signal the need for extra support to particular students or investments that are needed to address systemic problems. The best results occur when there is an intentional effort to avoid blaming students and families for the lack of attendance or participation.
During this time of the coronavirus pandemic, we recommend three strategies that leverage the power of chronic absence and other metrics to reduce the adverse impact of this crisis.
These concepts now guide the development of Attendance Works materials. We will update this page as we learn more. Revised April 16, 2020.