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Every School Day Counts: The Forum Guide to Collecting and Using Attendance Data
NCES 2009-804
February 2009


The National Forum on Education Statistics (the Forum) is pleased to present Every School Day Counts: The Forum Guide to Collecting and Using Attendance Data. One goal of the Forum is to improve the quality of education data gathered for use by policymakers and program decisionmakers. An approach to furthering this goal has been to pool the collective experiences of Forum members to produce "best practice" guides in areas of high interest to those who collect, maintain, and use data about elementary and secondary education. Standardizing the way data systems record student attendance—that is, developing a taxonomy of common attendance codes—is one of those high interest areas.

Every school day counts in a student's life. While research substantiates the importance of teacher effectiveness on student academic success, even the best teacher cannot be effective unless students are present in class. Regular attendance is essential to providing students with opportunities to learn, and these opportunities are limited when students do not attend school.

Moreover, access to accurate, timely data about whether individual students and groups of students regularly attend school is critical to making instructional and programmatic choices targeting student attendance behaviors. High-quality data enable educators to identify which students are absent; as well as the frequency of, and reasons for, their absences. By arming schools with actionable information, these data can guide the design of interventions intended to improve attendance and student achievement.

In this guide

  • Chapter 1 discusses the objectives of the publication, and explains how the attendance taxonomy was developed.
  • Chapter 2 provides a detailed description of each code in the attendance taxonomy.
  • Chapter 3 discusses common challenges and effective practices related to attendance data, including developing an effective taxonomy; and ensuring needed data accuracy, communication, collaboration, planning, and automation.
  • Chapter 4 shares examples of how states, school districts, and schools are using detailed attendance data to improve student attendance behaviors.
  • Appendix A includes a crosswalk between the attendance codes taxonomy and reasons for student absences identified in available state and school district resources.
  • Appendix B identifies differences among state statutes currently used to categorize educational activities that take place outside of school.
  • Appendix C lists additional Forum resources for schools and districts.

The National Cooperative Education Statistics System

The work of the Forum is a key aspect of the National Cooperative Education Statistics System (Cooperative System). The Cooperative System was established to produce and maintain, with the cooperation of the states, comparable and uniform educational information and data that are useful for policymaking at the federal, state, and local levels. To assist in meeting this goal, the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES), within the Institute of Education Sciences in the U.S. Department of Education, established the National Forum on Education Statistics (the Forum) to improve the collection, reporting, and use of elementary and secondary education statistics. The Forum deals with issues in education data policy, sponsors innovations in data collection and reporting, and provides technical assistance to improve state and local data systems.

Development of Forum Products

Members of the Forum establish task forces to develop best-practice guides in data-related areas of interest to federal, state, and local education agencies. They are assisted in this work by NCES, but the content comes from the collective experience of the state and school district task force members who review all products iteratively throughout the development process. Documents prepared, reviewed, and approved by task force members undergo a formal public review. This public review consists of focus groups with representatives of the product's intended audience, review sessions at relevant regional or national conferences, or technical reviews by acknowledged experts in the field. In addition, all draft documents are posted on the Forum website prior to publication so that any interested individuals or organizations can provide feedback. After the task force oversees the integration of public review comments and reviews the document a final time, publications are subject to examination by members of the Forum standing committee sponsoring the project. Finally, the entire Forum (approximately 120 members) reviews and formally votes to approve all documents prior to publication.