Attendance Data is Critical for Reengaging “Missing” Students

Attendance Data is Critical for Reengaging “Missing” Students

Between one and three million students have not attended school since March 2020. That’s not just a troubling statistic, it’s an emergency. Since the start of the 2020–21 school year, districts across the country have reported drastic decreases in enrollment and attendance. Students who were already vulnerable pre-pandemic make up a disproportionate amount of unaccounted-for students; researchers estimate that as many as one in four marginalized students (i.e., students with disabilities, English learners, students in foster care or experiencing homelessness) have received minimal education since March. School and district leaders need accurate, up-to-date attendance data to identify these students and provide immediate support.

Collecting attendance data for online instruction can be complicated and messy. Data points like phone calls or logins are helpful for understanding student access to online instruction—however, it is more difficult to measure engagement and learning. To help state and district leaders think through these considerations, Attendance Works has released an updated framework of metrics that together capture whether a student is in a position to truly benefit from online instruction.

Since the spring, a number of states have released helpful guidelines for measuring attendance in 2020-21. School and district leaders need this information to ensure that educators and families are on the same page when it comes to attendance, and to ensure the quality and completeness of this year’s data. Here are some examples we’re seeing in states:

  • Reconsidering what attendance means during online learning. States have taken different approaches to defining what counts as “present” in an online or hybrid context. In Minnesota, students must make daily contact with their teachers via phone, video, or chat. Kentucky, meanwhile, allows students to be counted present based on their time logged into the system or assignment completion.
  • Being sensitive to families’ needs and priorities. As families juggle work, childcare, and other commitments at home, students may not be able to participate in online instruction during regular school hours. New Jersey’s guidance notes that because some students will have to complete their learning in the evening, they should be counted as present if they turn in assignments.
  • Ensuring that teachers have a place to record this year’s attendance data. Ohio state leaders recommended adding new fields to student information systems where teachers can distinguish between absences from in-person instruction, teacher-led instruction, or self-regulated online instruction. Capturing these details will be important to understand how students engaged with online learning and may help to improve instructional strategies down the line.

Providing school and district leaders with access to up-to-date, disaggregated attendance data is a critical first step in reengaging missing students. Using this information, they can identify which students are consistently absent and take strategic action to contact and reengage them in school. Students have already lost enough learning due to COVID-19. Every additional day lost is a day too many.


This blog post is also available as a story on Medium.