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:

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
IT Infrastructure Webinar
A New Era In Connected Learning: Security, Accessibility and Affordability for a Future-Ready Classroom
Learn about Windows 11 SE and Surface Laptop SE. Enable students to unlock learning and develop new skills.
Content provided by Microsoft Surface
Classroom Technology K-12 Essentials Forum Making Technology Work Better in Schools
Join experts for a look at the steps schools are taking (or should take) to improve the use of technology in schools.
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
Budget & Finance Webinar
The ABCs of ESSER: How to Make the Most of Relief Funds Before They Expire
Join a diverse group of K-12 experts to learn how to leverage federal funds before they expire and improve student learning environments.
Content provided by Johnson Controls

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 Alabama's New Transgender Care Felony Faces Federal Test
An Alabama law is the first to put criminal penalties on the doctors who provide gender-affirming treatments to transgender minors.
3 min read
Conceptual picture of transgender flag overlaying shadows and silhouettes of anonymous people on a road.
iStock/Getty Images Plus
States Texas Governor Sparks Backlash With Talk of Rolling Back Free School for Immigrant Kids
Critics assailed Republican Gov. Greg Abbott's idea as “hare-brained” and “cruel.”
Robert T. Garrett, The Dallas Morning News
5 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 How Laws on Race, Sexuality Could Clash With Culturally Responsive Teaching
Critical race theory and culturally responsive teaching are not the same thing. But bans of one could impact the other.
7 min read
Illustration of diverse hands being raised.
iStock/Getty
States Beyond 'Don't Say Gay': Other States Seek to Limit LGBTQ Youth, Teaching
Legislators want to ban lessons on LGBTQ communities and require teachers to tell parents when students want their pronouns changed.
9 min read
Kara Klever holds a sign in protest in the hall outside of the Blue Room as Governor Kevin Stitt signs a bill into law that prevents transgender girls and women from competing on female sports teams at the Capitol Wednesday, March 30, 2022 in Oklahoma City, Oka. The bill, which easily passed the Republican-led House and Senate mostly along party lines, took effect immediately with the governor's signature. It applies to female sports teams in both high school and college.
Kara Klever holds a sign in protest as Oklahoma Gov. Kevin Stitt signs a bill into law that prevents transgender girls and women from competing on female sports teams.
Doug Hoke/The Oklahoman via AP