According to the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education's (DESE) preexisting attendance policy, a student must be at school, at a school related activity, or receiving academic instruction for at least half the school day to be counted as present1. Students who are not physically present at school but who are receiving academic instruction from the district for at least half the school day should be counted as present. Examples of academic instruction include tutoring, online learning, or distance learning.
While this policy is not changing for the 2020-2021 school year, this document provides guidance for taking and reporting attendance in hybrid and remote learning models.
When taking attendance, schools should confirm that students participated in at least half of each day's scheduled structured learning time activities, defined as "time during which students are engaged in regularly scheduled instruction, learning activities, or learning assessments within the curriculum for study of the 'core subjects' and 'other subjects.' In addition to classroom time where both teachers and students are present, structured learning time may include directed study, independent study, technology-assisted learning, presentations by persons other than teachers, school-to-work programs, and statewide student performance assessments."
Periods of time when students are working remotely will look different across schools and districts, so the process for taking attendance and confirming student participation will also look different.
Below are some examples districts may consider when adopting or adapting an attendance policy for remote learning. These are applicable for students who are learning remotely full-time, as well as for students who are learning remotely as part of a hybrid model.
If a student's remote schedule is mostly comprised of live, synchronous instruction, such as for schools and districts that are operating fully remote, teachers should take attendance for each instructional period and report it as they would in-person. An educator or other school staff member should be assigned to reach out to students who are absent for one or multiple classes to identify the reason for absence and provide support accordingly.
If a student's remote schedule has a larger proportion of asynchronous, independent work, we strongly recommend schools assign educators or other school staff members to conduct a minimum of one check-in with each student every day to ensure the student is capable of participating that day. An educator or other school staff member should also have a way to monitor student engagement throughout the day, to confirm that he or she participated in at least half of the scheduled structured learning time activities. This could include check-ins during each scheduled asynchronous block, completion of lessons or activities assigned through an LMS, submission of assignments, completion of activity logs, written reflections of work accomplished during the day, parent/caregiver attestations of work accomplished, etc. Every school/district should ensure the method of collecting and reporting attendance is consistent across classrooms and clearly communicated to students and families.
Students who cannot be reached, who convey they are unable to participate that day, or who demonstrate less than half of the day's scheduled structured learning time activities should be marked as absent.
This school year, in-person attendance and remote attendance will be collected separately in SIMS.
The existing Days in Attendance data element (DOE017) will be specific to in-person attendance. To collect data on remote attendance, two new fields have been added to the SIMS data collection: DOE054 (Days of Attendance Remote) and DOE055 (Days Absent Remote).
Districts will need to record daily student attendance and absences in the local SIS as either in-person or remote, to ensure that these distinct categories are transmitted to DESE in SIMS reporting in the appropriate data elements. If any portion of the school day is in-person, then the day of attendance should be categorized as in-person.
1 This attendance policy is separate and distinct from Structured Learning Time requirements, which require a minimum number of academic instructional hours each day. For the 2020-2021 school year, this includes 5 hours each day for elementary students and 5.5 hours each day for secondary students.
Last Updated: Septmber 21, 2020
Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education
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