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Measuring, Reporting, and Improving Attendance in SY 2020-21

Regular school attendance is a critical leading indicator of educational equity. There is a positive, statistically significant relationship between regular attendance and various educational and life outcomes into adulthood. As school entities plan for the 2020-21 school year (SY), it is important that evidence-based policies and systems are in place to:

  • Collect and report daily student attendance, regardless of the instructional setting or delivery method; and
  • Strategically target investments that address the digital divide, lack of supports (health, economic, nutrition, housing, etc.), and other inequities for students who are chronically absent1.

This document provides school entities with guidance on how to enhance local attendance policies and systems to ensure consistent measurement, analysis, and support of daily student attendance. Timely intervention for students who are chronically absent is critical to student success. If educators can't proactively, reliably, and easily identify students in need of extra support, there is a substantial risk of struggling students falling further behind.2

For purposes of this document, these terms have the following definitions when used:

Attendance = students' physical exposure to or contact with learning activities

Learning activities (22 Pa Code § 11.8) = instructional activities provided as an integral part of the school program under the direction of certified school employees. Includes the following (in-person or remote):

    • Student services, such as guidance and counseling services, psychological services, speech pathology and audiology services, and student health services
    • Homeroom period/morning meeting
    • Supervised study halls/tutoring
    • Assemblies
    • Clubs, student councils, and similar activities conducted during school hours
    • Educational trips, to which admission is not charged to families and a certified school employee accompanies the students

Measuring student daily attendance during remote learning

Every local education agency (LEA) (school districts, charter schools, cyber charter schools, career and technology centers, and intermediate units) must have an established attendance policy that governs how attendance is collected, coded, and reported. Daily student attendance data must be collected in the LEA's student information reporting system; LEAs will be required to submit a full year of attendance data for SY 2020-21 to the Pennsylvania Department of Education (PDE) via the Pennsylvania Information Management System (PIMS), regardless of instructional delivery model.

When students are learning in-person, the LEA's standard attendance policy and procedures should be followed. When instructional delivery models include remote learning, LEAs must develop and employ a procedure within the current attendance system to make daily contact with students learning off campus.

When students are learning off campus, it may be more difficult for educators to fully assess student engagement/attention during the learning activity. Based on guidance from national experts on attendance, LEAs implementing hybrid or full-remote instructional models in SY 2020-21 must reflect the following in local attendance policies:

  • When students are learning remotely – regardless of whether it is synchronous or asynchronous – the attendance measurement must include data that allows the school to assess whether the student engaged in the assigned learning activity.  Capturing student log-in or contact with school staff is not enough to truly assess exposure to the learning activity.
  • More specifically, schools must account for both student's daily access to and completion of assigned learning activities.
  • Daily contact between assigned school staff and students/families is important to student success.

See Table 1 for examples of ways to measure access and completion.

Table 1. Measuring attendance during remote learning3

Access Completion
Evidence that the student has access to the resources required for the assigned learning activitiesEvidence that the student completed the assigned learning activities
  • Student/family submission of daily online form or call to attendance hotline affirming access to resources required for assigned learning activities
  • Confirmation by assigned school staff that student/family downloaded or picked up weekly packet of assigned learning activities
  • Student participation in "office hours" offered by teacher where teacher confirms student access to resources required for assigned learning activities
  • Count of student logins to assigned coursework in Learning Management System (LMS)
  • When remote learning is synchronous:
    • Confirmation by school staff that student is connected through phone conferencing system at designated time
  • Track student participation throughout the lesson using chat/polling feature
  • Embed a "word of the day" in the assigned learning activity and use it as an answer to one of the practice questions at the end of the lesson
  • Submit an artifact upon completion of the learning activity (e.g., exit ticket, video, audio recording, portfolio, project-based learning, etc.)

Calculating daily student attendance during hybrid and full-remote instructional models

On days when students are participating in learning activities on campus, the school's usual method for marking individual students present or absent should be followed. On days when students are learning off campus, schools must consider both the data regarding student access to and the completion of assigned learning activities to determine whether an individual student was present or absent. Table 2 is a sample decision matrix for determining when an individual student is coded as present or absent on days when the student is learning off campus.

Table 2. Sample decision matrix for remote learning days

Possible Access/Completion Combinations Confirmation of Access Timely Submission of Assignment Attendance Decision
Evidence of Access and CompletionYes
Evidence of Completion, but not AccessNoYesPresent
Evidence of Access, not CompletionYesNoAbsent
No Evidence of Access or CompletionNoNoAbsent

To assess whether student attendance patterns are differentially impacted by remote instruction versus in-person instruction mode, it is recommended that schools create additional internal attendance codes for SY 2020-21 that differentiate attendance patterns during in-person instruction, remote synchronous instruction, and remote asynchronous instruction. Below is one example of the types of additional codes that could be added to the traditional attendance codes:

  • PRS = Present Remote Synchronous
  • ARSE = Absent Remote Synchronous – Excused
  • ARSU = Absent Remote Synchronous – Unexcused
  • PRA = Present Remote Asynchronous
  • ARAE = Absent Remote Asynchronous – Excused
  • ARAU = Absent Remote Asynchronous – Unexcused

Supporting students at-risk for chronic absenteeism

In Pennsylvania, students who miss more than 10 percent of school days across the academic year are chronically absent. The pandemic has and will continue to pose challenges to students' regular attendance. While a great deal is known about effective strategies for addressing barriers to attendance and reducing chronic absenteeism, fluid transitions between full in-person, hybrid, and full-remote instructional delivery models will require strategic adaptation of evidence-based strategies. To help educators explore, select, and implement effective strategies for mitigating chronic absenteeism that best fit their local needs and context, FutureEd and Attendance Works collaborated to provide school entities with a playbook for reducing chronic absence in the COVID era. This playbook presents more than two dozen strategies – identifying the problem the strategy addresses, summarizing supporting research and suggested tier of evidence aligned with the provisions outlined in the Every Student Succeeds Act, and highlighting school entities that have used the strategy successfully. School entities are highly encouraged to download and use the Attendance Playbook.

This page was created on August 5, 2020.

1Attendance Works. (July 2020). Presentation for Council for Chief State Schools Officers.
2Proving Ground. (July 2020). Presentation for Council for Chief State Schools Officers.
3Attendance Works. (July 2020). Presentation for Council for Chief State Schools Officers; Proving Ground. (July 2020). Presentation for Council for Chief State Schools Officers; interviews with chief administrators of cyber charter schools in Pennsylvania.​