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

Using the Attendance Codes Taxonomy

There are considerable variations in coding systems among states and often among school districts within a single state, and this taxonomy is designed to accommodate these variations. Users can "crosswalk" their existing attendance codes to the taxonomy. For example, in one district a student might be considered "absent-excused" if he is serving as a poll watcher at an election; in another district he might not be considered absent at all. Both districts could use the same category in the taxonomy to describe the student's activity that day, while interpreting the category in line with their own policies.

This taxonomy was designed for use as part of an overall student information system, and potential users should keep several factors in mind when they consider how they will use the attendance taxonomy.

ATTENDANCE CODES ARE NOT ENOUGH. The categories themselves do not include all of the information that a school district would probably want to maintain about a student's attendance. The taxonomy does not address the time period for which attendance is recorded; that is, whether an entry reflects attendance status at one time during the day, attendance during each class period, or attendance for some portion of the school day (for example, absent for doctor's appointment in the morning but present in the afternoon). Also, states and districts will vary in how they convert attendance data into decisions about what constitutes tardiness, what comprises chronic absenteeism, etc. Users will have to make judgment calls about how to classify unusual attendance situations. Finally, the definitions cannot vouch for the accuracy of the information. A school or district adopting this coding system will still need to determine procedures for confirming and documenting students' attendance status in order to ensure acceptable data quality.

THIS GUIDE WORKS BEST WITH AN AUTOMATED STUDENT INFORMATION SYSTEM. The taxonomy includes 15 attendance codes plus a temporary "place holder" condition of "absent-situation unknown." While it is possible to record and maintain this information on paper forms, an automated system would be far more efficient. For example, an automated information system could conceivably enter "out of school-regular instructional program activity" for every student when the roster of parental permissions is received, while a paper system would require entering the information for each student by hand, one record at a time.

THIS GUIDE IS NOT INTENDED TO CHANGE STATE AND LOCAL ATTENDANCE POLICIES. State laws, regulations, and policies determine what constitutes an absence, the definition of tardiness, the time unit for counting attendance (e.g., minutes, hours, periods, days), whether an absence is excused, and the definition of truancy. This taxonomy does not address these important issues. The guide is not intended to change state and local policies related to these choices, but it may be a useful tool for state boards and legislatures when considering future action related to attendance decisionmaking.

THIS GUIDE DOES NOT DISTINGUISH BETWEEN EXCUSED AND UNEXCUSED ABSENCES. All absences reduce a student's opportunity to learn. Thus, this guide focuses on where students are during the day and does not distinguish between excused and unexcused absences.5 The distinction between "excused" and "unexcused" is made by state and district policymakers, who also determine the consequences associated with unexcused absences. Users will need to supplement this taxonomy of attendance codes with an indicator of whether a type of absence is excused or unexcused.


5 The National Center for Education Statistics Handbooks Online provides the following definitions:
Excused absence: "A student is not present at school or at a school-endorsed or sponsored activity, but is temporarily excused from attendance because he or she: 1) is ill and attendance in school would endanger his or her health or the health of others; 2) has an immediate family member who is seriously ill or has died; 3) is observing a recognized religious holiday of his or her faith; or 4) is otherwise excused from school in accordance with board policies."
Unexcused absence: "A student is not present at school or at a school-endorsed or sponsored activity without acceptable cause, parental knowledge, or authorization from the school administrator or his or her agent."