Monitoring Attendance in the 2021-22 school year

To respond to the challenges created by the Covid-19 pandemic, Attendance Works promotes an expanded framework for monitoring attendance and the opportunity to learn. This is an evolving framework. Check back to this page for updates.

For the 2021-22 school year, we recommend adopting this framework, which advises monitoring five key metrics, Contact, Connectivity, Relationships, Prior Chronic Absence and Attendance (in-person and remote). 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.

The section below offers a deeper definition and rationale for our recommended metrics to monitor during the 2021-22 school year.

Five Key Areas for Monitoring
  • Contact: The pandemic made clear that many schools lacked current contact information for their students and families. In some cases, families moved suddenly, often because of lost jobs or health concerns. In others, contacts were outdated or families have not re-enrolled


    As part of preparation for the 2021-22 school year, maintaining current contact information is essential and can be used if schools close due to new Covid-19 outbreaks, or to connect with students and families who might need support.

    Attendance Works developed a list of ideas and strategies for locating those who have not been in touch with their schools during the pandemic. Once contact is made, educators should focus on addressing barriers to attendance, and not absenteeism per se.

  • Connectivity: Even with the emphasis on returning to in-person learning, students and their families need internet access, proper equipment, and training on utilizing online learning platforms. Access to online learning can help students make up for lost learning opportunities over the past year, and ensures they still have access to learning materials if they must stay home due to Covid-19 or other challenges. School districts should determine which students have access and equipment, and determine in 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.

    Building off the lessons learned from the prior school year, educators can make a huge difference by using both in-person and virtual relationship-building strategies with students. Regardless of the mode of instruction, educators can take attendance in a caring manner, notice when students have been absent and welcome them back, engage in positive messaging, offer incentives, and provide social-emotional checkpoints, at either the classroom or individual-student levels. Teachers can also encourage connections using group assignments and online chats to keep students engaged with each other. Even when instruction is in-person, 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. If instruction must be offered remotely, 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 family may be experiencing challenges that require support.

    Schools can also add virtual communications to their toolbox for sustaining their relationships to families when instruction is in-person. Staff can, for example, communicate through two way text messaging and emails as well as offer virtual and in-person participation options for community events, parent-teacher conferences, home visits and wellness checks.

    Schools and districts should monitor the extent to which students and their families have at least one adult they can go to for support and participate in virtual as well as in-person activities. Provide families opportunities to offer feedback on the quality of their relationships to school staff and opportunities to inform decision-making.

  • Prior Chronic Absence: Students who missed 10% of school in the prior school year, whether school was in-person, remote or hybrid, should be prioritized for extra outreach and support for the 2020-21 school year. 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. An analysis of last year’s data in one state, Chronic Absence Patterns and Prediction During Covid-19: Insights from Connecticut, shows that chronic absence early in the school year predicted worse attendance during remote and hybrid learning. Keep in mind that large numbers of students chronically absent in a particular grade, student population or school, can indicate a need for intensified investments in foundational and tier 1 supports,not just expanded early intervention. See the 3 tiers of intervention.

  • 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 occuring during in- person or remote learning. To ensure data is meaningful, districts should, if it does not already exist, 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.

    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.

    Additionally, schools and districts should, within the first two weeks of school, identify which students have not shown up for the 2021-22 school year. Prior analysis of chronic absence data has demonstrated 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 find students and families and understand why they are not participating.

We do 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 this moment.

Updated August 4, 2021