Attendance Works champions local, state and federal policies that promote taking daily attendance and using multiple measures, including chronic absence, to trigger support for students and families, and to inform program and policy decisions.

These policies should recognize that absenteeism is a leading indicator as well as a cause of educational inequity. Research shows the clear benefits of regular school attendance, and the high costs related to absenteeism, including students not being able to read by third grade and dropping out of high school.

Covid-19 has laid bare and deepened the lack of equal educational opportunity, particularly for Black, Hispanic, Native American and students living in low-income communities. A major national study found that students in majority-Black schools ended the school year six months behind in both math and reading, while students in majority-white schools ended up just four months behind in math and three months behind in reading. Students in predominantly low-income schools and in urban locations also lost more learning during the pandemic than their peers in high-income rural and suburban schools. Chronic absenteeism exacerbates equity gaps by causing students vulnerable to educational inequities to fall even further behind.

While showing up does not guarantee learning, a student who misses class clearly cannot benefit from the instructional opportunity. If a large number of students miss class, it is an indication of challenges that require systemic solutions. Data on attendance and absenteeism are one of the few data points currently available to assess a student's access to education.

Given the pandemic, measuring attendance and noticing which students are facing difficulties in showing up for learning is more essential than ever. Such policies are paramount to reducing the adverse and disproportionate impacts of Covid-19 on students and families and ensuring a positive, long-term recovery.

Policy Recommendations
  • Raise Awareness: Build awareness of what chronic absence is and why addressing it matters for ensuring an equal opportunity to learn. All of the adults in the school community should be aware of and take action to address bullying or threats based on religion, ethnicity or race that create an unsafe school environment.

  • Track Daily Attendance: Require tracking daily attendance and differentiate whether absences occur during in-person or remote learning in student information systems. 

  • Establish a Common Definition of a Day of Attendance: Student attendance should measure student exposure to instruction across all modes of learning, including in-person and remote. The 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. 

  • Monitor Chronic Absence: Monitor and publish data on how many students are missing 10% of school for any reason. Share data broken down by school, grade, race/ethnicity, income, home language, disability, foster care, experiencing homelessness, zip code and mode of learning.

  • Report on Absences by Reason: Publish data broken down by excused, unexcused or suspension overall and disaggregated by school, grade, race/ethnicity, income, home language, disability, foster care, experiencing homelessness, zip code and mode of learning.

  • Expand Metrics for Opportunity to Learn: Promote collection and reporting on metrics to ensure an equal opportunity to attend school, including adding data on the percent and number of students enrolled, students with updated contact information, and students with or without connectivity (i.e., access to the internet, broadband, computers, tablets). Support analysis of data by school, grade and student group.

  • Provide Enriching and Engaging Opportunities for Students: Ensure that students who are chronically absent benefit from a whole child approach that includes enrichment activities and addresses the health and educational needs of students who have had less access to instruction.  

  • Establish a Cross-Sector Multi-Tiered System of Supports: Adopt a cross-sector (i.e., education, health, housing, justice) multi-tiered approach to reducing student absenteeism. Weave together youth-serving systems in order to effectively deliver whole child education and positive youth development and workforce readiness.

  • Invest in Research and Data Systems: Determine which attendance metrics are associated with lower academic performance in remote or hybrid learning. Invest in technology to ensure the availability of meaningful and actionable attendance metrics that can be collected without undue burden to educators.

  • Invest in Recovery: Use chronic absence data along with other indicators to identify where the instructional losses are occurring, and invest resources including tutoring, expanded learning, community schools’ strategies and health services in engagement and recovery. 

  • Invest in Adequate and Equitable Resources: Expand funding and partnerships to promote greater educational access, including eliminating technology gaps, ensuring access to high quality instructional materials at home, and providing resources to support the safety, health and well-being of students and families.

  • Promote Fair Attendance Practices: Research has found significant biases in the labeling of absences as unexcused versus excused, as well as which students are suspended from school.  Both contribute to pushing students out of school and towards the criminal justice system.  

  • Use Alternatives to Legal Action: Adopt a positive, problem-solving and systemic approach to reducing student absenteeism. Enact legislative changes to truancy laws that eliminate punitive responses to student absenteeism. Punitive actions disproportionately impact Black and Brown students, those experiencing poverty or who have a disability. A punitive approach does not solve the barriers to attendance, and can be especially harmful when students are already experiencing trauma. Read our blog post about the importance of eliminating punitive approaches to absenteeism.

  • Waive High Stakes Accountability: During the pandemic, continue to waive chronic absence accountability requirements for the purposes of identifying schools for improvement, but require that data be collected, disaggregated and publicly reported. Even more frequent collection and public reporting at the local and state level is essential for understanding the scale and scope of the chronic absence challenge given the pandemic. 

  • Avoid Funding Cliffs: Introduce policies that protect schools and school districts that have experienced significant drops in enrollment and attendance against major losses in funding. The funding should ensure provide sufficient resources for schools to support students and families during the pandemic. 

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Updated November 2021.