Attendance & Learning

Research shows that students who attend school regularly earn higher grades are more likely to graduate and are better prepared for college. The pandemic made it difficult for many students to attend and engage in school, having a significant impact on their academic progress. 

How has COVID-19 affected student attendance?

The pandemic made it more challenging for many students to consistently attend and engage in school. The transition to virtual learning left a number of students unaccounted for. For example, during the first grading period of the 2020-21 school year, most Houston schools offered online instruction only. Approximately 8,500 students were uncontactable or unengaged during this time. Over the whole year, about 60% received remote instruction, and during the same time period, there was a 19% drop in engagement. This in turn led to unprecedented numbers of students failing classes, with around 42% failing at least one class, as compared with a typical year where only about 11% of students fail a class.

We know that chronic absenteeism—when a student misses at least ten percent of class days—correlates with high-school dropout rates, and we know it was on the rise from 2016-2019. Furthermore, missing school for a prolonged period has a major impact on student achievement.  For example, it took affected students nearly two full years to make up for the loss of instruction caused by Hurricane Katrina.

Low attendance, in addition to poor performance, also correlates with decreased school funding. This is because the funding that the state of Texas provides to public schools, (which usually accounts for at least 40 percent of all public-school funding) depends on average daily attendance (ADA).  The lower the ADA, the lower the school’s funding.

The Robin Hood redistribution system was created in 1993 by the Texas legislature in part to curb inequities resulting from wealthy, often suburban residential areas generating significantly more revenue for their schools. By 2018, many of the 185 districts that send money back to the state are located in urban areas e.g. Austin, where poorer people are being priced out of the housing market, and the districts are struggling to educate predominantly low-income students.

Despite efforts to make funding more equitable, in 2019 predominantly white school districts received $830/student more than predominantly non-white districts.

How has COVID-19 affected student  performance?

During the pandemic, standardized test scores dropped dramatically, most notably in math. The drop was most drastic in districts that offered more virtual instruction. Pre-pandemic, Texas passing rates had been on the rise for nearly a decade, but they are now back to 2013 levels. Perhaps most alarming is that students who are most likely to be vulnerable to the impacts of the pandemic are probably missing from the data.

Students of color are more likely to be learning remotely during the pandemic, and students learning remotely are on average experiencing greater learning loss.  Out of students in most low-income districts, 67% are learning from home. For school districts where Latinx students are the majority, the rate increases to 77%, and for school districts where Black students are the majority, the rate is 81%. Only 25% of students in school districts where white students are the majority are learning from home

In districts where fewer than a quarter of classes were held in person, the number of students who met math test expectations dropped by 32 percentage points, and the number of students who met reading expectations dropped by 9 percentage points compared to 2019 (the last time the test was administered). 

In districts with more than three-quarters of in-person instruction, the number of students meeting math expectations only dropped by 9 percentage points and those who met reading expectations dropped by 1 percentage point.

Latinx students in districts with over three-quarters of learning done remotely had the largest drops compared with students in other demographic groups, with a 10 percentage point decrease in the number of students meeting reading expectations and a 34 percentage point decrease in those meeting math expectations.

Black students taking mostly remote classes saw the second-largest declines, with a 6 percentage point decrease in meeting reading expectations and a 28 percentage point decrease in meeting math expectations.

For more on how the latest STAAR data reflect pandemic learning loss, click here.

Know Your Rights

The best way for a parent/student to ensure fair and equitable treatment is to know your rights. 

What if my child misses school due to a chronic or severe illness

In response to the difficulties of the pandemic, Texas lawmakers passed HB 699, which excuses students for absences resulting from serious illnesses or related treatment. In other words, excused absences cannot be considered when determining grades or attendance requirements.

Can I transfer my child to a school offering in-person instruction if my school does not?

In-person learning promotes better behavior, lower absenteeism, and improved mental health. These, in turn, mitigate learning loss and will help your student do well. With the passage of SB 481, if a school offers solely virtual learning for more than one grading period, parents are permitted to transfer their students to another school district that offers in-person instruction as long as the new school district accepts the transfer.

How could schools better serve students?

No policy is ever perfect. Despite its challenges, the pandemic forced schools to innovate. Coming out of this pandemic, schools and school districts have the opportunity to accelerate learning and reduce chronic absenteeism. To better support students and their families, CHILDREN AT RISK provides the following recommendations:

» Incentivize good attendance. Now more than ever, it is important to get our children back in the classroom.

» Where possible, schools may wish to accelerate learning for the next school year. 

» Engage parents as an additional resource. During the pandemic, parents came to understand the challenge of educating children firsthand.