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
  • Promote Tracking Daily Attendance for all Students: Encourage states to require tracking daily attendance and to differentiate in student information systems whether absences occur during in-person, synchronous or asynchronous learning. 

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • Promote Alternatives to Legal Action: Use federal guidance to promote a positive, problem-solving and systemic approach to reducing student absenteeism and not a punitive approach. Encourage legislative changes to truancy laws. Punitive responses disproportionately impact students based on race, class, and poverty and do not solve the problems that contribute to why students are missing school and can be especially harmful in this moment of crisis. Read our blog post about the importance of eliminating punitive approaches to absenteeism.

  • Provide The Use of Cross-Sector Multi-Tiered Supports: Encourage state and local education agencies to establish early-warning indicators and guidance for action using a cross-sector (i.e., education, health, housing, justice) multi-tiered prevention and early intervention framework to reduce student absenteeism. Use the development of these supports as an opportunity to weave our youth-serving systems closer in order to effectively deliver whole child education, support positive development and reduce negative contact with systems. Use our 3 Tiers of Intervention for students and families. 

  • Hold Harmless for Funding Based on Attendance or Enrollment: Calculate federal Title 1 dollars based on data gathered prior to the pandemic. School districts across the country have experienced significant drops in enrollment. The funding for the coming years will need to serve the student population that is going to show up, not the population that is struggling with accessing learning.

  • Refrain from High Stakes Accountability: Refrain from using chronic absence as an accountability metric until more research is developed on attendance and absenteeism during in-person, distance or hyrbrid learning. The federal government should waive accountability requirements for the purposes of identifying schools for improvement for the 2020-2021 school year, but still require that data be collected and reported so that we can understand the scale and scope of the impact on education that the pandemic has had.

  • 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 learning materials at home, and providing resources to support the safety, health and well-being of students and families.

  • Address Inequitable Access: Expand funding and partnerships to promote greater educational access, including eliminating technology gaps (lack of internet access, personal computers or tablets and digital literacy among families), 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 the federal government, particularly among cabinet agencies and other federal institutions that focus at least in part on the education, health, enfranchisement, and workforce readiness of young people. Such collaboration and coordination can lead to catalytic, systemic policy solutions—like that which led to the federal focus on chronic absence in ESSA—that helps states and local districts leverage important federal resources in their efforts to successfully engage and educate every young person.

  • Plan for Investment in Recovery: Student absenteeism and lost opportunity to learn 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 learning losses are occurring, and invest federal dollars into recovery and support efforts including tutoring, summer enrichment, 21st century community learning centers, community schools and school-based health services.

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