Absenteeism data could be a key indicator in determining whether remote instruction is effective and where there are gaps, according to an analysis from Phyllis Jordan, editorial director of FutureEd, and Hedy Chang, executive director of Attendance Works. In this commentary (excerpts follow), they offer several warnings about measuring attendance during this time, urging officials not to tie funding to attendance as well as for schools not to penalize chronic absenteeism with fines and court action. 

Traditionally, attendance has been the proxy for participation and engagement. The mere act of showing up for school meant a student was present—even if she didn’t do her homework or raise her hand in class. Court intervention could come with habitual truancy, but not with missed assignments. So what’s the online equivalent of showing up for school? Is it logging on to a remote portal? Interacting with a teacher one-on-one or on a group video conference? Turning in an assignment? 

Absenteeism is a powerful early warning sign that students are headed off track, an indicator often tied to educational inequity. It’s also a reflection of whether a school has a welcoming, effective climate and culture. That’s part of the reason that three quarters of states included a chronic absenteeism metric in accountability rubrics required under federal law. The U.S. Education Department allowed them to waive that metric in the past school year and may have to do the same in the coming year. The loss of that source of information, just like disrupted standardized test data, leaves educators without vital clues about who needs support and how well educational programs are operating.

States and districts should take a few key steps to turn this around.

  • States should avoid basing state aid upon attendance during the coming school year
  • Refrain from using attendance for high stakes accountability until we learn more about what works to monitor and reduce absenteeism in blended and distance learning
  • Move away from punishing students and parents for absenteeism with fines or court intervention. pandemic, with its health and mental health implications as well as economic disruptions, makes it even more critical to offer support rather than take punitive action.
  • Follow the Attendance Works framework that includes working contact information for a student and family, connectivity with the internet,
  • Once schools determine which schools and groups of students are affected by absenteeism, they can use a range of strategies to understand and address the underlying issues. 
Posted by Kim Miller-Smith on 8/4/2020