Solving Attendance and Academic Issues Now That Students Are Back in School

Attendance and Academics: Making Critical Connections edLeader Panel recording link


Blog post by Robert Low based on this edLeader Panel

The effects of the pandemic are continuing to impact students’ school attendance and academic progress, complicating long-standing challenges and creating new ones, but school district officials are continuing to respond with innovative approaches that can help students overcome current difficulties and resume their academic progress.

During the edLeader Panel, “Attendance and Academics: Making Critical Connections,” instructional leaders discussed ways to improve students’ attendance and achievement. Several of the speakers noted a surprising difference between elementary and secondary students, with the older students often having a more difficult time resuming school routines, even though those students had more years of experience with the routines.

In some cases, as Helen Chan Hill, Assistant Superintendent of Curriculum, Instruction and Professional Development for Pasadena Unified School District (CA), noted, the students had become used to greater independence and self-directed learning experiences during their periods of remote or hybrid learning.

Dr. Tommy Welch, School Superintendent for Boston Public Schools (MA), pointed out that many of his secondary students had taken on caregiving and wage-earning responsibilities that continued to complicate their academic careers.

Increasing Attendance

The complicated arrangements required to navigate the pandemic safely have made delivering students to school more difficult for many families, and now shortages of bus drivers and other staff are making the process even more challenging in many districts. Also, evolving quarantine requirements, mask mandates, and pandemic surges have resulted in some parents keeping children home in situations that may not technically qualify as excused absences.

In the District of Columbia Public Schools, one response has been to focus on increased communication and outreach to let students and parents know about the levels of protection that are being used to keep schools safe, and what the current COVID policies are. There are also efforts underway to develop relationships with families and conversations about the barriers that individual students may be facing, and how workarounds can be established.

In Pasadena, there’s been an emphasis on partnering with communities and hiring “community advocates” who can contact local students and their families, in part to arrange assistance with school attendance issues. Schools are also expanding their “home visit teams” so that more staff members are showing up and doing so more frequently. Boston schools are using a similar team-building approach in which social workers and family liaisons are working together to address issues.

In Cobb County School District (GA), there’s a transition underway from the pre-pandemic focus on chronic absenteeism to looking for pre-chronic patterns so that there can be proactive early intervention to prevent the absenteeism from becoming chronic. There’s also more thought being given to what schools can do so that students don’t want to miss out and are more inclined to attend.

Academic Acceleration

After students have arrived at school, there’s an increased emphasis on helping students who may have fallen behind or have unfinished learning that needs to occur in order for them to meet grade-level standards. In Boston, plans are underway to create “acceleration academies” and provide more online tutoring during and after the school day.

Cobb County schools are also exploring the use of “high-dosage tutoring” to accelerate learning, and the district is using “recovery specialists” who can team up with social workers to provide academic and other types of support. Overall, there’s an effort to add teachers to reduce class sizes and provide more differentiation, while also increasing the number of social workers and counselors who are available to work with students and families in order to mitigate the long-term effects of the pandemic.

DC schools are also emphasizing high-intensity tutoring and acceleration academies before and after school, and using a targeted, data-driven approach to meet the needs of at-risk students through trauma-informed practices and Multi-Tiered Systems of Support.

There was widespread agreement during the Panel that data on attendance and academic performance is no longer consistent, and in some cases may be questionable as a result of all the disruptions during the past two school years, including the difficulty of monitoring online attendance. But as with other effects of the pandemic, there is also a commitment to working through any data collection and accuracy issues to better inform educators so they can help today’s students receive the education and support needed to overcome their current challenges.

Learn more about this edWeb broadcast, “Attendance and Academics: Making Critical Connections,” sponsored by EveryDay Labs.

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