6 ways to curb COVID’s chronic absenteeism crisis

Why rising perfect attendance rates are not a good sign during COVID

More students are missing more days of school days during COVID, with absenteeism rates rising faster among younger students, a new report from a Georgetown University think tank has found.

Overall, the number of students who have been out for half the year has risen exponentially, deepening a K-12 absenteeism crisis, according to FutureEd’s “Present Danger” report.

These early grade enrollment declines will likely lead to future teaching and learning challenges, particularly among the disadvantaged students who are recording higher rates of absenteeism.

Attendance gaps ultimately leads to achievement gaps, Phyllis W. Jordan, FutureEd’s editorial director, says in a blog on the report.

“Even as chronic absenteeism rises, perfect attendance rates are also up,” Jordan wrote.

“Rather than being a good news story, this likely reflects the challenges in taking the roll in remote learning and the myriad definitions for what constitutes attendance,” she wrote.

To begin to reverse rising absenteeism, administrators can use funding provided by the CARES Act, ESSER II and the American Rescue Plan. FutureEd recommendations the following strategies:

  1. Home visiting. In-person or virtual visits with a student’s family can reduce absenteeism when educators focus on building relationships rather than chastising or nagging families. Connecticut state leaders plan to spend COVID relief funds on an extensive home visiting campaign this spring and summer, in collaboration with community organizations.
  2. Nudges. Letters and texts that alert parents to their children’s absences have proven effective because many parents don’t know how many days their children have missed.
  3. Tutoring and mentoring. Caring relationships developed during high-dosage tutoring can strengthen a student’s sense of belonging. One such program is
    Check & Connect, which is included in the U.S. Institute of Education Sciences’ “What Works Clearinghouse.”
  4. The right school climate. An attendance messaging campaign and positive greetings—whether principals welcome families during drop off or teachers  find special ways to greet students entering the classroom—will set a welcoming tone after COVID’s disruptions. In elementary school, well-organized recess can improve climate and, in turn, attendance.
  5. Leveraging community partnerships. Examples include working with a local transportation agency to develop new methods for making it easier for students to get to school and partnering with nonprofits and faith groups to find volunteer tutors and mentors.
  6. Data demands. Schools may have to upgrade data systems to be understand analyze the scope of attendance and absenteeism issues. Regular reports let  teachers and administrators spot new patterns of absenteeism and students who need interventions.

Administrators can find more strategies in the “Attendance Playbook” published by FutureEd and Attendance Works in 2020.