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 for State and Local Education Agencies
  • Track Daily Attendance for all Students: Define "learning opportunities," track daily "attendance" and differentiate in student information systems whether absences occur during in-person, distance or blended settings.

  • Expand Metrics for Early Warning and Intervention: Collect and report on multiple metrics to ensure an equal opportunity to attend school, including adding data on the percent and number of students enrolled, with or without, working contact information and connectivity (access to the internet and computers or tablets). Analyze data by school, grade and student subpopulation.

  • Report Chronic Absence Data: Publish chronic absence data from the 2019-2020 schoold year through school building closures, by district, school, grade and student subpopulation.

  • Create Alternatives to Legal Action: Ensure all guidance promotes a positive, problem-solving and systemic approach to reducing student absenteeism and not a punitive approach. If needed, support legislative changes to truancy laws. Read our blog post about the importance of eliminating punitive approaches to absenteeism.

  • Provide Multi-Tiered Supports: Establish indicators and guidance for action using the 3 Tiers of Intervention for students and families. Use data on contact, connectivity, attendance and participation and include protocols for engaging students and families who are not participating in distance learning.

  • Hold Harmless for Funding Based on Attendance or Enrollment: Calculate 2021-2022 and 2022-2023 school year funding based on attendance or enrollment data gathered prior to the pandemic.

  • 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 blended classes.

  • Conduct Research: Engage in research and data analysis to determine which absenteeism metrics are associated with lower academic performance in distance or blended settings.

  • 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.

  • Plan for Investment: The lost opportunity to learn during the pandemic has profoundly impacted students, especially and disproportionately those who are most vulnerable. Prepare now to use data to identify where learning losses are occurring and to invest in recovery and reengagement.