The role of the federal government is to ensure the right of every child in the United States to a free and high quality public education by protecting their civil rights and by providing resources for those in need. The federal government is also responsible for school funding; collecting and then using data and research to describe the condition of the nations’ schools; to promote improved practice; to inform policy; and, to provide guidance for schools, districts and states that supports quality improvement.

Attendance is a leading indicator of a student’s opportunity to learn and is a key metric for measuring whether the government is delivering on its promise. The U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights (OCR) collects chronic absence data through its Ed Facts data collection and reports the data through the biennial Civil Rights Data Collection (CRDC) release. The inclusion of the provision for states to adopt a school quality indicator, along with more traditional academic measures for accountability in the Every Student Succeeds Act of 2015 (ESSA), led 36 states and the District of Columbia to adopt chronic absenteeism as one of their multiple measures of accountability.

The coronavirus pandemic has worsened existing inequities, resulting in skyrocketing student absenteeism and increased barriers to learning and development. Bullying and threats based on religion, ethnicity or race that create an unsafe environment for students and families are on the rise. Today tens of millions of children are losing out on learning due to in part to a lack of digital and personal connectivity, unstable housing, illness and trauma. In response to the increasing numbers of students who are absent and missing from school, policy makers can advance specific policies that promote student attendance and participation. Attendance Works has developed policy recommendations, adapted for the pandemic, to advance making student absenteeism a priority indicator, especially in this moment of crisis.

For the 2020-2021 school year, we recommend monitoring four additional key metrics, contact, connectivity, relationships and participation, in addition to chronic absence. All of these metrics will provide federal agency administrators and policymakers with the information needed to understand which students are missing from school rolls or are not able to access learning opportunities or services and interventions that will support recovery from the pandemic.

Read about ESSA

Read about Civil Rights Data Collection

  • Attendance Works developed 10 policy recommendations and two immediate actions for the incoming administration. Read our memo for President-elect Joseph R. Biden Jr.’s transition team.

Updated 12/15/2020