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Institute of Education Sciences

Measuring Attendance during COVID-19: Considerations for Synchronous and Asynchronous Learning Environments

The National Center for Rural Education Research Networks (NCRERN) is an IES-funded R&D Center that has established a continuous improvement network of 50 rural districts in New York and Ohio. The purpose of the Network is to build the capacity of rural school districts and supporting state agencies to use their own data to improve the education of their students. Districts are currently tackling the problem of student absenteeism through piloting, evaluating, and improving various interventions.  Katherine Kieninger, David Hersh, and Jennifer Ash describe how the Network is tackling the problem of measuring attendance during COVID-19, taking into consideration the various learning environments.

 

NCRERN has been working to develop a viable attendance construct given that districts and schools are currently struggling with how to define and track attendance for remote or blended learning models. When students are not physically present, the typical observe-and-log model of attendance tracking is not an option. However, not tracking attendance is not an option either given the importance of attendance for identifying at-risk students, predicting key student outcomes, and acting during the pandemic as a proxy for the general safety and well-being of students.

We considered several possible attendance constructs and assessed them by the degree to which they met the following criteria. First, a viable construct should be measurable equitably across all students and learning environments, including in-person, synchronous and asynchronous virtual internet-accessible environments, and asynchronous environments without internet access. The attendance construct should also be simple to understand, easy to capture, and quick to collect. Finally, access to technology and reliable low-cost high-speed internet must be considered, especially in rural areas lacking such infrastructure.

We concluded that tracking student exposure to instructional content best meets these criteria, as seen in the table below. While not without its own challenges, exposure to content is the least complicated option, can be tracked across learning environments consistently and is the closest in principal to what in-person attendance captures.

 

Attendance Construct

Simple

Easy to Capture

All Students

High Frequency

Reliable & Valid

Consistent Across Grade Levels

Consistent across Virtual OR In-Person

In-Person Attendance

X

Exposure to Instructional Content

Participation

X

?

?

Assignment Submission

X

Engagement

X

X

X

Mastery

X

?

X

X

X

 

In guidance provided to Network districts, we use the table below to outline how to define tracking exposure to content across the learning environments, suggest capture options, and provide a non-exhaustive list of considerations for school district stakeholders. Districts should acknowledge that a student can float between learning environments. For example, an in-person student in quarantine and healthy enough to continue classwork will become a virtual learner. Based on their individual home context, this could place a student in any of the three virtual environments. Creating a plan for seamless attendance tracking across learning environments is key to measuring attendance with fidelity.

 

Attendance Construct: Exposure to Instructional Content

Learning Environment

Definition

Capture Options

Considerations

In-Person

Student is present

Student Information System (SIS)

  • Will in-person students be able to log in for remote learning if they are not able to come to school?*

*For example, a student must miss school for an extended period (i.e. needs to quarantine)

Virtual

 

Synchronous

Student is present for virtual class

Student Information System (SIS)

  • Can you avoid concurrent classes for students in the same family?
  • If a student loses internet, do you have an asynchronous back-up option for course content?

Virtual

 

Asynchronous with Internet Access

Student affirmatively accessed content

Learning Management System (LMS) log-in with a minimum time threshold

OR

Daily form completion (form asks students on what content they worked)

  • How/when will teachers capture results in the SIS?
  • How do you count daily attendance for different class periods?
  • If using LMS log-in option, what is the minimum amount of time a student needs to be logged in?
  • If using a daily form, what question(s) will you ask?
    • We recommend a low threshold equivalent to something a student who was present could answer regardless of their level of engagement.

Virtual

 

Asynchronous without Internet Access

Student affirmatively accessed content

Contact each student for whom the above guidance does not or cannot apply.

 

Student is absent only if they have not worked on any instructional content.

  • How will you know when a student does not have internet access, therefore need to call?
  • How do you contact the students who many not have consistent cell service or a landline?
  • What time of day will you contact students or caregivers?
  • How many attempts does a teacher or staff member need to make per day before a student is marked absent?
  • How will you address unresponsive caregivers?
  • How will you count daily attendance for different class periods in MS/HS?
  • If students have multiple content teachers, who will reach out to students?

 

In the guidance, we also considered assignment submission as a potentially viable attendance construct. An equitable implementation of an assignment submission construct across all learning environments, however, would result in one unique challenge: Would a school district be willing to mark an in-person student absent for the day if the student failed to submit an assignment? While surmountable, addressing this issue would be challenging in the short-term.

As school districts finalize their attendance measurement plans, they will need to ensure that any selected attendance measurements are feasible and sustainable for the duration of the school year for the individuals capturing attendance. This includes considering how long tracking attendance will take for teachers and additional staff members daily. Gathering feedback from teachers and staff regarding the ongoing execution of gathering attendance data is key to ensuring reliable attendance tracking within a district.

 

We welcome individuals to reach out to NCRERN with additional recommendations or considerations. We are also interested in hearing how attendance is being measured in practice at school districts across the country. Connect with NCRERN via email at ncrern@gse.harvard.edu.


Katherine Kieninger, M.P.A. is the Ohio State Network Manager for the National Center for Rural Education Research Networks (NCRERN) at the Center for Education Policy Research at Harvard University.

David Hersh, J.D., Ph.D. is the Director of Proving Ground at the Center for Education Policy Research at Harvard University.

Jennifer Ash, Ph.D. is the Director of the National Center for Rural Education Research Networks (NCRERN) at the Center for Education Policy Research at Harvard University.

This is the second in a series of blog posts focusing on conducting education research during COVID-19. Other blog posts in this series include Conducting Education Research During COVID-19.

 

Conducting Education Research During Covid-19

Since the start of the pandemic, we have all heard about the unprecedented changes to schooling in the U.S. and the ways that educators, students, and families have been adapting to the new reality.

Education researchers have also been adapting their work due to school closings, canceled testing, and different school reopening plans in the 2020-21 school year.

How have education researchers handled the new reality?

Some researchers have been busy compiling and disseminating research findings to support districts and schools to continue instruction during the pandemic. For example, evidence-based recommendations were made available to help parents and schools pivot to a virtual environment (from very young children up to the postsecondary level), maintain engagement, address mental health (including in rural areas), protect against learning loss, and decide how to prioritize needs when considering re-opening. And many education technology researchers and developers have provided online resources to schools.

Other researchers have been working hard to understand the overall disruption to schooling due to COVID-19 and the ramifications on student learning around the world.  For example, there have been efforts to keep track of school closures, document what is happening in schools across the country (including in rural districts), study the switch to online learning and attend to unequal access to technology for remote learning, forecast funding scenarios, and examine changes in teacher recruitment.

In addition, education researchers are thinking about new ways to conduct research in light of the changes to schooling. They are looking at alternatives to standardized testing, new approaches to teaching and learning to strengthen schools moving forward, and ways to rebuild our education systems after the pandemic. Indeed, there are myriad ways that education researchers can and are using their skills to continue to support education during this unprecedented time.

How has COVID-19 impacted IES-funded education research studies?

IES realizes that the pandemic has changed things in ways that may complicate education research – both how it is conducted and how it is interpreted. So, we are actively working with grantees to help ensure the integrity of their work and to respond to the needs, interests, and concerns of the schools and colleges they are working with and the communities they are trying to help. In a follow-up to an IES-funded study on students in foster care, a researcher-practitioner partnership in Colorado is examining the implications of challenging circumstances such as COVID-19 on the postsecondary education of vulnerable youth.

Many IES-funded researchers have had to alter their research plans to accommodate the needs of their partner schools and overcome the challenges posed by the abrupt transition to virtual learning. Because of continued uncertainty, they may need to change plans again. Program officers at IES have been working with grantees on a case-by-case basis to adapt their timelines and, in some cases, their research designs.

IES’s priority is to help researchers maintain scientific rigor while holding a realistic view of what can and cannot be done this year. As we work with our grantees, we take into consideration where the project is in its overall timeline. For example, if the project has collected all of its data and is in the final analysis stage, the remaining work may not be affected. Or, if a project has not yet started to begin an intervention in schools, it can pause during the 2020-2021 academic school year and resume in 2021-2022. Still, other projects may find themselves unable to either continue or pause. These projects may not be able to achieve their initial purpose and may need to end.

Despite some of the challenges, the pandemic offers a unique natural experiment for learning and instruction, as well as opportunities for innovation that can ultimately benefit education. IES, our funded researchers, and the communities that rely on research evidence continue to pull in the same direction: building strong evidence to inform policy and practice. Through collaboration and dialog, we will work together to ensure that data and results are meaningful, valid, and as timely as possible. IES will continue to focus on high-quality education research to improve student learning and achievement both now and in the future.

Stay tuned for future blog posts on what our researchers are doing to address some of the challenges that face educators, families, and policymakers during this unprecedented time!


Written by Corinne Alfeld (Corinne.Alfeld@ed.gov), National Center for Education Research.  

Facilitating Causal Research in CTE: Notes from the Network

 

The Career and Technical Education (CTE) Research Network just entered its third year, and it is time to share recent accomplishments with the IES community! As a reminder, the CTE Research Network (led by the American Institutes for Research, or AIR) was created to expand the evidence base on the impact of CTE programs on student outcomes using causal research methods.

 

Research

In June 2020, AIR released a preliminary report of CTE sites that are ready for causal evaluation. Designed to support researchers interested in studying the impact of CTE on student outcomes, the report details the history, theory of change, student enrollments, and other information for 4 selected CTE sites around the country. The Network hopes that researchers will use the information in the report to design evaluation studies of these programs.

In July 2020, a fifth research project joined the network. A team from MDRC, led by Rachel Rosen, was recently funded by IES to study the Impact of Technology-Based Career Advising Tools on High School Students' CTE Choices and Academic Performance. In partnership with Communities in Schools (CIS), the study will use a three-arm, school-level random assignment research design (RCT) to assess the effects of Navience and YouScience on students' self-expressed attitude and interest in career pathways, CTE course taking patterns, and engagement with and progress towards graduation. We welcome the team to the Network and look forward to learning whether and how these advising tools influence student thinking about career options, choice of relevant CTE coursework and work-based learning options, and decisions about CTE concentration in available pathways and programs of study.

A small group of researchers from different Network teams collaborated on and recently released a technical working paper on counterfactuals in CTE. It can be challenging to identify comparison groups for CTE students because it is an elective into which they self-select. The paper describes a variety of rigorous methods of comparing CTE students to valid counterparts and provides case studies that illustrate how to use these methods.

 

Training

The CTE Research Network is committed to increasing the number of researchers trained to study CTE using causal methods. It is notoriously challenging to isolate the effects of CTE from other influences on student outcomes. In August 2020, the Network hosted 18 researchers for a week-long virtual summer training institute on how to design a causal study to examine the impact of CTE. During the week, participants learned how to implement randomized-control trials (RCTs), regression discontinuity designs (RDDs), and comparative interrupted time series (CITS) in a CTE context. After learning about each method, participants worked in small groups to apply the method to real data and had access to the instructors to ask questions. The feedback about the training was overwhelmingly positive. The lecture portions of the training will be posted soon to the training page of the Network’s website. Another week-long training institute will be held in summer 2021 (hopefully, in person!)

The Network is currently developing a series of online modules for CTE practitioners and state agency staff to strengthen capacity to access, conduct, understand, and use CTE research. There will be a presentation to preview the modules at the Association of Career and Technical Education (ACTE) Best Practices and Innovations Conference on October 9, 2020 and a longer and more in-depth session at ACTE’s Career Tech VISION conference the first week of December. These practitioner training modules will be available for free on the website in late Fall 2020.

 

Leadership and Dissemination

The CTE Research Network is regularly updating its resources page with publications of interest to the CTE research field. The most recent is a report of findings from MDRC’s study of P-Tech high schools. The Network’s equity workgroup (a group of researchers from across the Network’s member projects) also published a popular blog this summer on applying an equity lens to CTE research. The Network also posts outside resources such as a REL self-study tool on career readiness and evaluation reports from other researchers.

 


For more about the CTE Research Network, you can sign up to receive the Network’s quarterly newsletter at the bottom of their website’s home page and follow them on Twitter (@CTEResNetwork) and LinkedIn.

If you are interested in learning more about the CTE Research Network, contact the Director, Kathy Hughes (khughes@air.org).

If you are interested in discussing CTE research opportunities at IES, contact Corinne Alfeld (Corinne.Alfeld@ed.gov).

Research on Adult Literacy: A History of Investment in American Adults

Reading is fundamental, but it is also difficult to master, taking thousands of hours of instruction and practice. Roughly 52 percent of U.S. adults over the age of 16 may struggle with everyday literacy tasks. Of these adults, approximately 20 percent may perform at very low levels of literacy. For adults who are still mastering of this skill, the task can seem overwhelming.

Luckily, IES-funded researchers have been working towards solutions for adults with low basic reading skills and are creating and refining assessments, curricula, and software. These innovations aim to help adult learners, the instructors and tutors who work with them, and the programs that support them.

As part of our commemoration of National Adult Education and Family Literacy Week (September 20-26, 2020), we would like to recognize the history of adult literacy research at IES and its National Center for Education Research.  

Since 2004, IES-funded researchers have been developing assessments to help identify the needs of adults struggling with literacy and working on solutions to build adult literacy skills. This work fed into the measurement component of IES’s Reading for Understanding Initiative in 2010 and later returned back to addressing adult basic literacy measurement in 2016.

In 2012, IES funded the Center for the Study of Adult Literacy (CSAL), which developed a curriculum and technology for adults reading between the 3rd- and 8th-grade levels. CSAL demonstrates how adult literacy research benefits by integrating research conducted with students with disabilities and those in K-12 and postsecondary settings. In fact, the researchers pulled upon findings from eight prior IES grants funded by NCER and NCSER.

Our researchers are also developing a clearer picture of the adults who fall into the broad category of those with low literacy. They are leveraging the PIAAC data set to conduct exploratory work that informs both our understanding of those at the very low ends of literacy and also of whether basic skills may predict success in postsecondary career and technical education programs.

In 2020, IES funded additional development research to help refine an interactive, online reading comprehension program, AutoTutor for Adult Reading Comprehension (AT-ARC). Another project will recruit and train postdoctoral fellows to cultivate the next generation of researchers who can continue to build a research base for improving adult literacy outcomes.

Although IES researchers are making great strides to build knowledge, the field needs more information, and adult learners deserve tools and innovations developed for their specific needs and goals. IES hopes to continue to support such work.

 


To learn more about IES-wide efforts to understand and improve adult learners’ outcomes, visit the Adult Basic Skills topic page. Contact Dr. Meredith Larson for more information about the research supported by NCER.

 

Building Knowledge About Adult Education

 

Adult education programs aim to support the millions of American adults who wish to strengthen their basic skills, earn a high school degree or equivalent, or become U.S. citizens. During the National Adult Education Family and Literacy Week (September 20-26, 2020), IES is highlighting the ongoing research it supports to help expand our knowledge of and innovations for the adult education system and the communities they support.

Roughly 30 million U.S. adults may lack a high school degree or equivalent. And according to an assessment conducted in 2017, approximately 30 percent of adults may have very low numeracy skills, and approximately 20 percent may have very low literacy skills. Adults with low levels of academic attainment or low basic skills may face barriers to full economic or civic engagement.

Adult education programs aim to help such adults. These programs often run on lean budgets and need to meet the needs of a highly diverse population with a multitude of learning goals.

In order to help understand and improve the ability of the adult education system to provide services, IES researchers have been conducting various research projects in partnership with adult education providers.

For example, Career Pathways Programming for Lower-Skilled Adults and Immigrants conducted mixed-methods research in partnership with Chicago, Houston, and Miami. This work helped each city understand what types of career pathways adult education programs were offering and who was participating in such programing. This type of information helps programs, cities, and the system more broadly understand and adjust to the needs of learners and communities.

The New York State Literacy Zone Researcher-Practitioner Partnership focused on improving the ability of case managers to help adult learners leverage wrap-around services and access and succeed in adult education and training programs. This project helped develop tools and training for case managers and conduct an exploratory pilot study of these tools to see if they predicted learner outcomes, such as persistence in a program.

The Georgia Partnership for Adult Education and Research (GPAER) is a collaboration among researchers at Georgia State University and leadership at the Georgia Office of Adult Education: Technical College System of Georgia to help understand adult literacy programs across the state. This ongoing work is conducting mixed-methods studies to understand program features, learner characteristics, and indicators of beneficial learner outcomes.

There is still much to learn to help improve the ability of programs to find and support adult learners. IES encourages additional research to further help us understand the landscape of adult education, the needs and interests of adult learners and their instructors, and the outcomes and impacts of improving adult basic skills.


For more information about adult education research at the National Center of Education Research, contact Dr. Meredith Larson.