Data on school attendance

Who collects data on school attendance and for what purpose?

Individual schools collect and record student absences in electronic databases, manual paper systems, or handwritten attendance tallies. Other schools use school information systems to track attendance (e.g. PowerSchool, Skyward). Regardless of the manner in which attendance data are collected, the data typically become part of an administrative dataset that is reported up to the school district level.6  

Every state is required to report absenteeism rates for schools under the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), which was signed into federal law in 2015. ESSA represents the first time that federal education law specifically mentions a measure of attendance for assessing school and student success. The primary purpose of collecting and reporting school absenteeism data is to measure how much time a student is present in school. Collecting and reporting detailed attendance data can help schools, districts, and states identify patterns in the frequency of student absences and understand the reasons why students are missing school. Staff can then use this information to develop, implement, and assess the outcomes of attendance interventions. 

In addition to school attendance data that is a part of administrative datasets, attendance data is sometimes collected as self-reported data from students or parents. However, research has shown that there is a weak association between self-reported absenteeism and absences reported in administrative data, with students and parents frequently underestimating days absent, particularly when absences are unexcused. 19

Although schools and school districts collect and report school absenteeism data to describe how much time students are present in school, health departments can also use measures of school attendance to:

  • Compare trends over time.
  • Compare schools or school districts across a larger jurisdiction.
  • Identify schools or school districts that are experiencing an increase in school absences.

All of the above may be an indicator of mental health needs.  

Feature your story

Have you used school attendance data within your health department? If so, we would love to hear from you and feature your story in this playbook.