State education policy should ensure that each student’s state constitutional right to an education is met. States achieve this by establishing state-wide standards for accountability, adopting regulations and providing guidance that establishes expectations for school districts and schools to achieve. States are also responsible for providing each student a substantially similar opportunity to meet performance standards regardless of geographical location. States also guarantee that state and local funding are sufficient to reasonably expect that all students can meet academic performance standards.

The federal Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) requires states to adopt accountability standards for its schools that include academic and school quality measures, and requires all 50 states to report chronic absence data on their state report card website. Due to the strong research base of attendance as a leading indicator of student academic success and child well-being, 36 states and the District of Columbia adopted chronic absenteeism as one of their multiple measures of accountability.

As such, districts and schools rely upon states to specify how key attendance concepts are defined and generally carried out. Prior to the coronavirus pandemic the question of whether a student was present or not was relatively straightforward. States provided various levels of guidance on measures such as the age of compulsory education; how chronic absence and truancy are defined and addressed; how a day of attendance is defined; and whether attendance (in the form of average daily attendance or membership count) is used to allocate funding. Now, several months into the coronavirus pandemic, attendance taking is spotty, daily attendance taking is not necessarily happening in all states, and millions of students are not showing up or have not contacted their school.

The coronavirus pandemic has worsened inequities, resulting in skyrocketing student absenteeism and increased barriers to learning, such as a lack of connectivity, unstable housing, illness and trauma. We call on state policy makers to support these 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 also recommend monitoring four additional key metrics, contact, connectivity, relationships and participation, in addition to chronic absence. All of these metrics will provide state agency administrators and policymakers with the information needed to understand which students are missing from the school roll or not able to access learning opportunities or support reengagement, and the provision of services and intervention to support recovery from the pandemic.

To advance a national strategy to improve attendance policy and practice Attendance Works’ facilitates the national Network to Advance State Attendance Policy and Practice. To learn more click here.

To learn what is happening at the state level click on the state name under Individual State Pages in the menu at right.

Updated 12/15/2020