The New Normal: Attendance Accounting

There’s a common theme to attendance-taking procedures, regardless of instruction method.

We all have been worried what the pandemic would do to our State funding for school year 2021. TEA gave us some good news about its ADA hold harmless measures it would apply this school year and I know we feel a little less stressed. However, the calculations and methodologies and FAQs can leave us feeling a little overwhelmed. It sometimes feels like we’re drinking from a fire hose (forget the hose, we’re drinking directly from the fire hydrant) from the never-ending guidance in our inboxes. From an audit perspective, I’ve had to take some time to read the Texas Education Agency’s (TEA) latest 48-page SY 20-21 Attendance Enrollment FAQ 48-and am really been grateful for TEA’s and TASBO’s State Funding guidance to make sense of it all. I would encourage you to monitor both on a weekly basis.

The various instructional methods will cause us to tailor our audit procedures and learn new terms. If we take some time and process the TEA FAQ and read the General Attendance Policies for on-campus instruction and remote instruction, we will quickly realize there’s a common theme to attendance-taking procedures, regardless of instruction method. Let’s dig in.

On-Campus Instruction – Follow the TEA Student Attendance Accounting Handbook (SAAH) as described in the FAQ on Page 5. The audit requirements in the SAAH begin on page 26. Section 2.2.5 lists all of the information that must be included in the LEA’s attendance procedures manual. Also, the entire Section 2.3 Required Documentation contains detailed information of the documentation that will need to be produced during an attendance audit.

Remote Synchronous (RS) Instruction – The LEA will use an official attendance time documented in the teacher’s daily schedule, and the teacher will take attendance from students in virtual attendance to mark students as RS present or absent. This will typically be taken in real time and/or the same day, marked in the LEA’s local student information system, in a way similar to how attendance is taken in real time with students on campus. An LEA will post on its website and submit to TEA a signed attestation that includes a summary of training and support, instructional framework, platform and technology, grading and progress monitoring, and student access.

Remote Asynchronous (RA) Instruction – Students would be marked RA present or absent based on whether the student was engaged through one of the approved asynchronous engagement methods of the day. Remember that LEA’s that chose the RA instruction method must submit a learning plan to TEA that includes details how student engagement is tracked daily. What’s different about this method is that attendance may not necessarily occur on a daily basis but may be tracked weekly based on the Learning Management System, daily progress via teacher-student interactions or completion/turn-in of assignments. See FAQ #26 on page 23. The critical thing to note with this method is that once students are marked as absent for lack of engagement, attendance cannot be changed based on the student completing an assignment or participating in some other asynchronous engagement at a later date.

TEA has also developed new PEIMS data elements to track the RS Eligible Days Present and RA Eligible Days Present. The LEA will need to track the instructional method in which the student is participating in each school day. Days present will need to be identified as RS and RA, but absent days will not need to be identified separately. There is no change to how on-campus students will be tracked. Regardless of the ADA hold harmless gift we’ve received, TEA still needs accurate attendance reporting in order to make its determinations. Pages 40 and 41 of the Texas Education Agency’s (TEA) latest SY 20-21 Attendance and Enrollment FAQ (the “FAQ”), outlines the ADA hold harmless methodologies that will be used for all six 6-week attendance reporting periods. You’ll notice that the considerations and calculations become increasingly complex for the fourth through sixth 6-week attendance reporting periods. In order for an LEA to receive funding for remote instruction, the LEA’s grading policies for remote instruction must be consistent with the LEA’s grading policies for on campus assignments. See FAQ #2 page 6.

We can definitely state that regardless of the instructional method applied at your LEA, there is a common theme note—documentation. Remember that any changes to a student absence will need to be sufficiently documented to support the change. For the remote synchronous and asynchronous instructional methods, the LEA should update its attendance reporting policies and procedures to reflect its current practices and ensure that they align with TEA’s latest guidelines. See FAQ #16 page 18.

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