States

States Renew Efforts to Track Student Attendance as Pandemic Stretches On

By Sarah D. Sparks — December 17, 2020 4 min read
Image shows empty desks in a classroom.
  • Save to favorites
  • Print

Nearly two semesters into the pandemic, there’s still no national picture of whether students are actually getting instruction, and ongoing changes to the way states track attendance may mean more students could slip through schools’ radar.

Thirty-two states and the District of Columbia are back to asking districts to track daily attendance, according to a new report by Attendance Works, a San Francisco-based initiative aimed at promoting research and policy action around attendance. That’s an improvement over last semester, when the nonprofit Center for Reinventing Public Education found that little more than 1 in 4 districts required taking attendance at all once schools moved to remote learning during the first wave of pandemic quarantines. But there’s wide variation in how districts are asked to monitor student attendance, and experts argue existing systems intended to flag students who need support may fall short because of it.

Daily attendance before the pandemic was required in all states and used for three key things: counting the overall number of students for funding purposes; identifying students who missed instruction and could be at risk of falling behind academically or disengaging from school; and holding districts accountable for keeping students in class. This year, with districts already on the hook for greater spending to follow health procedures and provide equipment for remote and hybrid instruction, the need for a full student roll for funding purposes is starting to conflict with the need to provide attendance data for instruction.

For example, in Alaska, students attending school remotely are counted as though they are in correspondence schools, automatically labeled as 100 percent attendance. Similarly, Missouri tracks attendance for students attending class in person or in hybrid remote instruction, but for full-remote instruction, their attendance is automatically considered 94 percent. Eleven states leave attendance decisions entirely up to local districts.

“If you are funding based on average attendance, states are trying to hold their districts harmless for the fact that kids might not always be showing up” to remote learning sessions, said Hedy Chang, Attendance Works executive director and president. “But an unanticipated impact is, then it doesn’t create any incentives to track and monitor and support kids. ... If you’re trying to use your own warning system, to make certain to know whether or not a kid is in trouble or has issues or challenges and needs additional outreach, you want to know that a kid’s attending.”

States have offered a wide array of ways for districts to identify student engagement. California, for example, requires daily attendance, but schools can count a student through a teacher meeting with him in person or virtually; through documenting that the student has turned in assignments or participated in online activities; or through reports that a student has had daily contact with other nonteaching district staff.

“And then the question is, what are the measures that you’ve received instruction? Is it just logging on, is it being on a virtual classroom? ... Is it submitting an assignment? Is it responding to some kind of quiz while you’re on class?” Chang said. While there is substantial evidence that a student who misses 10 percent or more of in-person instruction during a normal year is at risk of falling behind in school, there is no research consensus at this point on the best measure of remote learning engagement, or benchmarks for how much remote learning a student must attend in order to stay on track academically.

“There’s probably an undercount of who needs outreach and support, given these various ways people are tracking attendance,” Chang said. “They’re probably undercounting kids because there are kids who log in or maybe show up for five minutes, but they actually still don’t receive instruction.”

The study highlighted some ways that states are using attendance policies to help schools identify students at risk and even engage families while schools are remote:

  • Connecticut allows districts to use electronic records of student engagement, including live remote classes, time logs from student learning platforms, and assignment submissions to track attendance; students’ time must equal at least half a school day.
  • In Mississippi, districts who do not use online management systems must make direct contact with every student every day. This personal outreach can help schools check in on families and identify additional academic or social support needs, Chang said.
  • Connecticut has also moved from an annual report on absenteeism to monthly collection and publication of attendance data, to give districts quicker feedback.
  • Nevada districts operate on staggered attendance schedules to reduce virus exposure, and the state has lifted daily attendance requirements but asked districts to provide new attendance monitoring that takes into account students’ potential need to quarantine.
Related Tags:

Commenting has been disabled on edweek.org effective Sept. 8. Please visit our FAQ section for more details. To get in touch with us visit our contact page, follow us on social media, or submit a Letter to the Editor.


Events

This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
Teaching Webinar
6 Key Trends in Teaching and Learning
As we enter the third school year affected by the pandemic—and a return to the classroom for many—we come better prepared, but questions remain. How will the last year impact teaching and learning this school
Content provided by Instructure
Teaching Profession Live Online Discussion What Have We Learned From Teachers During the Pandemic?
University of California, Santa Cruz, researcher Lora Bartlett and her colleagues spent months studying how the pandemic affected classroom teachers. We will discuss the takeaways from her research not only for teachers, but also for
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
Student Well-Being Webinar
Trauma-Informed Practices & the Construction of the Deep Reading Brain
Join Ryan Lee-James, Ph.D. CCC-SLP, director of the Rollins Center for Language and Literacy, with Renée Boynton-Jarrett, MD, ScD., Vital Village Community Engagement Network; Neena McConnico, Ph.D, LMHC, Child Witness to Violence Project; and Sondra
Content provided by Rollins Center

EdWeek Top School Jobs

Teacher Jobs
Search over ten thousand teaching jobs nationwide — elementary, middle, high school and more.
View Jobs
Principal Jobs
Find hundreds of jobs for principals, assistant principals, and other school leadership roles.
View Jobs
Administrator Jobs
Over a thousand district-level jobs: superintendents, directors, more.
View Jobs
Support Staff Jobs
Search thousands of jobs, from paraprofessionals to counselors and more.
View Jobs

Read Next

States During Site Visit From Cardona, Illinois Governor Defends Vaccine, Testing Policies
“The testing regimen is there in order to make sure that they’re not entering the institution where they work and spreading COVID-19.”
Karen Ann Cullotta, Chicago Tribune
3 min read
The Student Council lead the creation of “sensory hallways” at Western Branch Middle School in Chesapeake, Va.
U.S. Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona looks on as Gov. J.B. Pritzker speaks with reporters after touring Access Hawthorne Family Health Center, which is offering COVID-19 vaccines at 3040 S. Cicero Ave. in Cicero, as part of the Department of Education's "Return to School Road Trip" events in the Chicago area, Tuesday afternoon, Sept. 21, 2021.
Ashlee Rezin/Chicago Sun-Times via AP
States Kentucky Ends All Statewide Mask Mandates After Governor's Vetoes Overridden
The Republican-led legislation strips the Democratic governor's ability to issue statewide mask mandates in schools or anywhere else.
Jack Brammer and Alex Acquisto, Lexington Herald-Leader
4 min read
In this Wednesday, Sept. 23, 2020, file photo, Kentucky Governor Andy Beshear addresses the media in Frankfort, Ky. Kentucky's governor said Sunday, Oct. 11, that he will quarantine after a member of his security detail who drove with his family the day before later tested positive for COVID-19. Democratic Gov. Andy Beshear said he and his family feel fine, show no coronavirus symptoms and have tested negative for the virus.
In this Sept. 23, 2020, file photo, Kentucky Governor Andy Beshear addresses the media in Frankfort, Ky.
Timothy D. Easley/AP
States Bill to Restrict How Race and Racism Is Taught in Schools Headed to Texas Governor
If the "critical race theory" bill sounds familiar, that's because lawmakers passed a similar one during the regular legislative session.
Eleanor Dearman, Fort Worth Star-Telegram
4 min read
Texas Gov. Greg Abbott speaks at a news conference in Austin, Texas, on June 8, 2021.
Texas Gov. Greg Abbott speaks at a news conference in Austin, Texas, on June 8, 2021.
Eric Gay/AP
States Infographic Which States Are Reporting COVID-19 Cases in Schools?
Some states are reporting the number of COVID-19 cases in their schools and districts. Use this table to find your state's data.
Image shows the coronavirus along with data charts and numbers.
iStock/Getty Images Plus