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.
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 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 Black, Latinx and Native American communities illustrates the long-term health effects of unequal access to resources due to 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
Attendance Works developed a multi-phase framework (see image below) to assist educators and their partners in thinking strategically about supporting students and families. States and districts are now preparing for Phase 4, Transition back to School. How well states and districts navigated each phase affected the phase that followed. Those who built teams to organize a strong response in the spring were able to offer more coordinated supports to students and families. Those who were able to establish and maintain connections with families while school buildings were closed are more likely to see students return in the fall. See Present, Engaged and Supported for planning a data-informed, restorative transition back to school.
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.
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 sense 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.)
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
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.