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  • Erica Peterson

Attendance trends hidden by SB98

As we look at district attendance data in the distance-learning environment this school year, the trends may not be pointing to what you think. While we are seeing high rates of chronic absenteeism as previously reported, we are also seeing inflated present counts based on the passage of SB98’s modified attendance procedures.

SB98 has artificially shifted typical absence patterns and trends. Typically, we see a 60/40 split, where approximately 60-70 percent of a district’s total enrollment has excellent (missing less than 1 percent of school) and satisfactory levels of attendance (missing less than 5 percent of school) combined. This year, we are seeing 80/20 splits, with higher than usual attendance levels.

One school district partner remarked, “It’s really hard to be marked absent these days, you have to be completely tuned out.” Another stated, “The way the state has adjusted the attendance rules with SB98 for this year…we have a very much inflated ‘present’ count. We are at about 99 percent [attendance] right now…even parents communicating about [their child’s] attendance right now counts as attendance.”

Figure 1: Total absences summary showing student attendance across a district

Figure 2: Total absences summary year to date, school years 2018-19, 2019-20, 2020-21

If your district attendance rate has drastically improved amid the pandemic surge, you need to do a gut check and ask your inner skeptic if that rings true. There is a flattening of students with manageable or “so-so” attendance. Ask yourself, “Are those students thriving during distance learning or are they logged-in and tuned out? Do their academic outcomes mirror their newly improved attendance?”

Improving attendance is a process, not an event. We can meet the moment and embrace the challenge the data is presenting by implementing tools that foster communication around student attendance and quantify the effectiveness of district re-engagement strategies.

SB98 sets a minimum standard, not a maximum.

...we are also seeing inflated present counts based on the passage of SB98's modified attendance procedures.

We are near the halfway point in the school year. Now is the time to evaluate and update your Learning Continuity and Attendance Plan (LCP) to onboard data-driven systems that deliver multi-tiered systems of supports for attendance.

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