Counting Attendance during COVID-19

By Joseph Hedger

According to an October 2020 EdWeek Research Center survey, daily student absences rose from 6 percent before the start of the COVID-19 pandemic to 10 percent in fall. Students from low-income households and students of color were more likely than other students to experience remote learning full time. In the face of learning loss and increasing inequity, state boards of education this fall sought to establish clear, innovative attendance policies that take distance learning into account. From the beginning of the pandemic in March through September 2020, 19 state boards added attendance issues to their agendas, according to NASBE’s State Board Insight.

In late August, the Idaho State Board of Education unanimously approved a temporary rule to allow schools to report full-time equivalency enrollment, which can be used to calculate school funding allocations. The rule establishes 1,200 minutes or more per week as one full-time equivalency in grades 1-12 and 600 minutes in kindergarten. In November, the board followed up with an amendment that includes average daily attendance calculations for summer school and students who are present for instruction less than 2.5 hours in one day.

In Indiana, the instruction of students receiving fully virtual education before the pandemic was funded at 85 percent of those attending a physical school. During their September meeting, the state board voted to authorize Executive Director Brian Murphy to modify the state tuition support rule to provide funding assurances for school districts that were delivering 100 percent virtual instruction due to the pandemic. Under this change, students attending school in person in February and virtually in September will be funded as though they were attending in person. Those who were reported as attending virtually in February and also virtually in September will continue to be funded at the 85 percent level.

In August, the Mississippi State Board of Education added a temporary rule to begin the Administrative Procedures Act process to establish a new policy on reporting attendance for virtual learning. The state’s early response to the pandemic let districts use a traditional, hybrid, or virtual schedule; the new attendance policy outlines a framework for how districts collect and report student attendance in each schedule. There are three reporting options for the “digital-virtual”—synchronous online, asynchronous online, and asynchronous offline modes—and a “learning packets” offline option for students not connected virtually.

The Texas Education Agency published guidance in mid-November that details differentiated attendance measures based on synchronous and asynchronous learning. The FAQ document sets a minimum standard of instructional minutes for full-day learning in a synchronous context (i.e., grades 3-5 require 180 minutes and 6-12 require 240 minutes) and daily engagement for the asynchronous context using methods such as daily progress in the learning management system, daily progress via teacher-student interactions, and assignment completion or submission.