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 predicts that if in-person instruction does not resume until January 2021, Black students may fall behind academically by 10.3 months, Hispanic students by 9.2 months, and students living in poverty by more than a year. 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
  • Track Daily Attendance for all Students: Require tracking daily attendance and differentiate in student information systems whether absences occur during in-person, synchronous or asynchronous learning. 

  • Monitor Chronic Absence: Continue to monitor and publish data on how many students are missing 10% of school for any reason across all educational settings. Share data broken down by school, grade, race/ethnicity, income, home language, disability and zip code. 

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

  • Expand Metrics for Early Warning and Intervention: 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, with or without connectivity (i.e., access to the internet, broadband, computers, tablets). Support analysis of data patterns by school, grade and student subpopulation to identify which students are disproportionately impacted by a lack of connectivity and which have lost contact.

  • Invest in Research and Data Systems: Engage in research and data analysis to determine which attendance metrics are associated with lower academic performance in distance 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, given the need to integrate and visualize data across learning management and student information systems.

  • 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 students based on race, class, disability and poverty, do not solve the barriers to attendance, and can be especially harmful in this moment of crisis. Read our blog post about the importance of eliminating punitive approaches to absenteeism.

  • Establish a Cross-Sector Multi-Tiered System of Supports: Establish guidance and early-warning indicators for ensuring a cross-sector (i.e., education, health, housing, justice) multi-tiered approach  to reduce student absenteeism. Use the development of these supports as an opportunity to weave youth-serving systems closer, in order to effectively deliver whole child education and positive youth development that can reduce negative contact with systems. 

  • 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 sufficient resources for the student population that is going to show up.  Schools should not face significant reductions because students are currently struggling with accessing learning.

  • Refrain from High Stakes Accountability: The federal government should waive accountability requirements for the purposes of identifying schools for improvement for the 2020-21 school year, but still require that data be collected 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. 

  • Address Inequitable Access: Expand funding and partnerships to promote greater educational access, including eliminating technology gaps (i.e., lack of internet access, personal computers, tablets, digital literacy among families), 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 Interagency Collaboration and Coordination: Support and build the capacity for interagency collaboration and coordination across governments, particularly among agencies, that focus at least in part on the education, health, rights and workforce readiness of young people. Such collaboration and coordination can lead to catalytic, systemic policy solutions.

  • Invest in Recovery: Student absenteeism and lost instructional opportunities have profoundly impacted the nation’s children, and disproportionately those who are most vulnerable. Prepare now to 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. 

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

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Updated May 2021.