Pathways to Engagement: Covid-19 Recovery Through Attendance

Step 2: Review Data and Establish Priority Groups

Reviewing the Data 

Even before the pandemic, one in six students in the United States was chronically absent (missing 10% or more of school days for any reason.) Learn more from this recent analysis of federal data. Initial data available from a few states suggest alarming increases are occurring.

When designing strategies, begin, if at all possible, by examining attendance data for the current school year for the district and schools. Consider the following questions: Is chronic absence increasing compared with prior years? Is it increasing overall, by grade, or by school? 

Do some schools, grades or even classrooms have lower chronic absence rates or higher satisfactory attendance (missing less than 5% of school)? If so, take a moment to find out about the practices and strategies of these potential bright spots to see if they could be expanded.

While reviewing the data, notice whether it makes sense. If the data don’t seem to accurately reflect when students missed school, for example, during distance learning, then review the attendance taking practices to determine if additional attendance metrics, and more guidance or training, is needed to ensure a consistent, meaningful approach to taking attendance. Districts can ask schools or teachers with problematic data to review and resubmit the numbers. Districts can also use insights gained from this review to take steps to improve attendance tracking for the next school year.

If current year data isn’t available or is extremely questionable, try to review data from past years to gain a sense of historical trends, potential bright spots and which student groups were already struggling prior to the pandemic. 

Establishing Priority Groups 

The students experiencing the highest levels of chronic absence or who are missing from enrollment data are found among communities hardest hit by the pandemic.

In many places, the groups facing the greatest impacts from the pandemic and interruptions in instruction include:
  • Students living in poverty

  • Black students

  • Native American students

  • English language learners

  • Asian-American students

  • Hispanic and Latino students

  • Students with disabilities

  • Students in transition grades (preschool/K, 6th, 9th,12th)

  • Students experiencing homelessness

  • Students involved in foster care

  • Older students needing to work or care for siblings

Each school and district should use their own data to confirm which are the high priority student groups in need of additional outreach and support. View this list of questions to consider.

If your data system does not already calculate chronic absence, consider using the Attendance Works data tools. Keep in mind, however, that the changes in how a day of attendance has been defined for distance learning could mean that the data collected underestimate the number of children missing out on instructional time. See the brief, Are Students Present and Accounted For?, to better understand the problematic impact of the pandemic on attendance taking.

In addition to monitoring chronic absence, the shift to distance learning in many places makes it essential to look at additional key metrics, including whether schools and districts have working contact information for students and families, students have connectivity (both devices and internet access) and, if possible, if the student or family has a caring relationship to a school staff person. Attendance Works has developed a new data framework for monitoring attendance during the pandemic.

Understanding the Assets and Challenges of Priority Groups

Understanding which groups are experiencing high levels of chronic absence is essential to creating scalable solutions to engagement. When many students are missing too much school, schools and communities must move beyond case management to developing tailored strategies that help a group of students succeed. They can use a combination of quantitative (using numbers) and qualitative (using surveys, interviews or observations) data to understand the assets of that group and identify common challenges.

Schools and communities can also incorporate into their solutions lessons learned from existing efforts or models that have been effective with engaging specific student groups. To learn more and find examples of tools to generate qualitative data, download Resources for Identifying Assets and Challenges.