Attendance Works sent a survey to 50 states and the District of Columbia asking about attendance policies. The results – gathered from 45 states plus D.C. – show that most state now require daily attendance taking, in addition to other progress.
Why should we care about state attendance policy? Well-crafted state guidance supports districts and schools taking attendance daily in an appropriate and consistent manner.
When data is publicly available, all stakeholders can see and address inequitable access to learning opportunities, as well as identify promising practices worth adopting in other places. Even though reporting chronic absence on state report cards is required by the federal government, the details are left to the states.
Chronic absence has escalated into a full-scale crisis. Numbers have doubled or in some cases tripled in many places, and historically disadvantaged groups are most affected.
Despite the skyrocketing rates of chronic absence, now is not the time to shy away from reporting on chronic absenteeism. The public release of data allows for more collaboration, insight and a shared learning environment. When data is released publicly, it offers families and community members a chance to review, and if numbers don’t seem realistic, to question the results, which helps improve the quality of the data so that investments in interventions reach the groups needing them most.
In our analysis we found that most states now require taking daily attendance. This is a jump from last year when our state policy scan, Are Students Present and Accounted For?, found that only 31 states and D.C. required attendance to be taken daily.
The results also show that in most states, daily attendance taking is being required across all modes of learning. In addition to in-person learning, states generally required or allowed for distance learning (long-term virtual or short-term virtual in case of quarantine). Offering multiple modes of learning enables students to stay connected and learning even when they face barriers to getting to school in person, whether the challenge is quarantine, a lack of transportation or other issues.
Unfortunately comparing data across and within states remains challenging. While 17 states have defined attendance as showing up for half a day of class for in-person learning, the remaining define attendance in a variety of ways. Twelve states leave definitions up to local discretion. What defines a day of attendance is even more variable for distance learning.
The latest update in the Data Quality Campaign’s annual review of report cards from all 50 states and the District of Columbia finds that very few states provided data on the additional measures that families really need for understanding how schools served students during the recent period of disruption. And although most states have updated their report cards, many are still missing critical information about the 2020–2021 school year, including assessment data, high school graduation rates, and information about the academic progress of different groups of students.
DQC’s report found that 43 states report some chronic absence data, an increase of eight states from 2020-21. Of these 43 states, 40 disaggregate chronic absence data by at least one student group, which is ten more states than in the prior school year.
As we reviewed data from states in our survey, DQC’s report, and guidance from the federal government, we identified several promising and emerging data practices, including increasing timeliness, publishing data broken down by excused versus unexcused absences and expanding metrics used to examine the opportunity to learn.
Yet there is still work to be done. We join DQC in its call that the federal government support states in sharing data with families in ways that are easy to find, use, and understand. When federal leaders provide investment and support to states, and pressure to hold states accountable for what is federally required, the federal government can fulfill the intention of the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) and ensure that students, families, and the public are getting the information they need.
Publicly available and easy to scrutinize education data, including chronic absence, is an invaluable tool for allowing everyone – from families to policy makers – to see where the problems are, so they can work collaboratively and develop appropriate action. When students are chronically absent, it is a warning sign that challenges in their home and community are preventing their participation or they aren’t being engaged by what is happening in school. The data also allows everyone to see where things are working well, so they can duplicate successful approaches as well as to celebrate progress.
Take a look at our report, Monitoring Who Is Missing Too Much School. Check with your local district to find out about the current chronic absence rate in your school or district. Let us know what you find.
Homepage blog post photo by Allison Shelley/The Verbatim Agency for EDUimages