Expanded Metrics for Monitoring Attendance and Engagement

Attendance Works promotes an expanded framework for monitoring attendance and engagement, especially given insights learned from the Covid-19 pandemic about how data can inform our work when unexpected disruptions in learning occur.

To support engagement and attendance, we advise districts and schools to monitor five key metrics, Prior Year Chronic Absence, Attendance (in-person and remote), Contact, Connectivity and Relationships. Together, these data paint a holistic picture of whether students are positioned to benefit from current learning opportunities. They also alert schools and communities that timely action is needed when students face challenges to showing up to class. 

We understand that the last three metrics (Contact, Connectivity and Relationships) are new for schools and districts. While systems to monitor these are a work in progress, we are sharing them to guide your work. The section below offers a deeper definition and rationale for our recommended metrics to monitor during the school year.

Five Key Areas for Monitoring
  • Prior Year Chronic Absence: Students who missed 10% of school in the prior school year should be prioritized for extra outreach and support for the current school year and the upcoming summer. A wealth of research shows that chronic absence in the prior year indicates students, starting in kindergarten, were more likely to fall behind in reading, experience lower achievement in middle school and less likely to graduate from high school. Keep in mind that large numbers of students chronically absent in a particular grade, student group or school can indicate a need for intensified investments in foundational and tier 1 supports, not just expanded early intervention. See Attendance Works free data tools for help on using your data.

  • Attendance (in-person and remote): Schools and districts should take attendance daily in a consistent manner, and differentiate in student information systems whether absences are occurring during in- person or remote learning. Establish a common definition of what constitutes a day of attendance during remote as well as in-person instruction. The current U.S. EDFacts definition is that a student counts as present for a full day of instruction if they attend school for at least .5 of the day. (Scroll on this website page and click on FS 195 chronic absenteeism to find guidance and the EDFacts definition).

    Data on absences and attendance can be used to notice which students have satisfactory attendance (missing less than 5% of school), have at-risk attendance (miss 5-9% of school), moderate chronic absence (miss 10-19% of school), or are experiencing severe chronic absence (missing 20% or more of school). Knowing which and how many students fall into these attendance bands can inform school and district strategies for reducing chronic absence, and also help indicate the level of support that may be needed for individual students and families as well as groups of students.

  • Attendance during the first month: Schools and districts should, within the first two weeks of school, identify which students have not shown up yet for the current school year. Analysis of chronic absence data demonstrates that a low level of student participation in the first weeks of school predicts later absenteeism. Utilize this information to organize an outreach effort to understand why students and families are not participating.

  • Contact: Maintaining current contact information is essential for connecting with students and families, especially those who might need support. Consider asking for current email, cell and home phone numbers and emergency contacts multiple times, such as at back-to-school events, parent meetings and the start of each semester. Attendance Works has developed a list of ideas and strategies for locating students and families who have not been in touch with their schools.

  • Connectivity: Even when learning is in-person, students and their families need internet access, proper equipment and training on utilizing online learning platforms to complete school-based learning and assignments. This access allows for greater access to learning opportunities and also ensures they can obtain learning materials if they must stay home. School districts should determine which students do not have internet access and equipment and determine through partnership with local and state governments, along with community partners how to secure the resources to address gaps. Districts and schools should also assess whether school staff have access to needed technology and equipment and the skills to use them.

  • Relationships: Research and experience show that strong reciprocal relationships with caring adults and educators are key to keeping students and families involved in school and learning. Educators can make a huge difference by using both in-person and virtual relationship-building strategies with students and their families. See our suggestions for activities in our Back-to-School calendar of activities for elementary grades and for secondary grades (find the calendars on this page), as well as the Spring Attendance Slump page.

    When educators take attendance they can do so with intentionality and in a caring manner. For example, if a student is chronically absent, educators can make an extra effort to welcome them back. Educators can also recognize good and improved attendance and provide social-emotional check-ins at either the classroom or with individual students. Teachers can also encourage connections using group assignments and online chats to keep students engaged with each other. Virtual connections (phone calls, texts and emails) can be essential tools for sustaining and deepening relationships and communication if students are unable to show up to class.

    School staff should also use in-person strategies (connecting at school events, parent teacher conferences, community events) and virtual strategies (phone calls home, two -way texting, virtual home visits) to maintain communications with families, not just students.

    If instruction is virtual, staff should connect to students at least three times a week, if not daily, since the lack of response could be a sign that a student or family may be experiencing challenges that require support.

    Schools and districts should monitor the extent to which students and their families have at least one adult they can go to for support. Provide families opportunities to offer feedback on the quality of their relationships to school staff and opportunities to inform decision-making. Harvard’s Guide to Relationship Mapping can be used to ensure all students have a meaningful connection to an adult in the school community.

We know that showing up matters, and that when students show up to learn, they are more likely to be able to stay on-track, stay engaged and meet major educational milestones. It is more essential than ever to measure attendance and notice which students are facing difficulties in showing up for learning. Our responsibility to use data for early warning, and ensure we are helping schools, students and families solve the barriers to learning, is paramount to ensuring long-term recovery from the pandemic.

Updated August 2023