Cyber-Truancy: Addressing Issues of Attendance in the Digital Age

Occasionally when I mention that Keeping Pace was started a decade ago to address the shortcomings of education policies as they relate to online learning, the response is along the lines of “surely it’s all been figured out by now; what do you do these days?” As those who are involved with online and blended learning policy know, we are in fact nowhere close to having state policies that truly account for different instructional modes, students in control of their path and pace, funding based on student progress, and accountability based on true student learning.

A recent paper by Leanna Archambault of Arizona State University, Kathryn Kennedy of iNACOL, [1] and Stacy Bender of the Minnesota Virtual High School addresses “Issues of Attendance in the Digital Age”[2] and reminds us how far we are from a coherent merging of policy and practice.

The abstract states:

“Although mandatory attendance is easily determined in a traditional, brick-and-mortar school, monitoring and enforcing attendance and truancy in an online environment is less obvious. Despite this challenge, virtual schools, especially those that are publicly funded, have a requirement to ensure that students who are enrolled are actually logging on, completing lessons, and “attending” classes in an online setting. This article describes how attendance and truancy laws apply to online students and explores the notion of cybertruancy. Within the context of Minnesota Virtual High School, one of the first schools to develop online attendance policies, we explore the impact and significance of enforcing cyber-truancy policy.”

The section titled Feasibility of Truancy Enforcement in Minnesota Virtual Schools is particularly insightful and should be reviewed by policymakers who do not have a firm handle on the steps that online schools take to work with students who are often at risk, and to do so within legal and reporting requirements. The description if individual student cases provides the color and detail behind these issues and policies.

In conclusion, the authors state:

“[V]irtual schools would benefit from establishing procedures that enact cyber-truancy policies. This may include communicating with students and parents about absences and truant behavior, intervening for students in an effort to alleviate the causes of the truancy, and filing truancy petitions when necessary. The purpose of doing so is to intervene when a student may be struggling so that action can be taken and assistance can be immediately provided where necessary. Without careful monitoring and enforcement, students who are not visible in the online environment run the risk of falling through the cracks. At a time when students—many of whom are already at risk—have turned to online education as an alternative to a traditional setting, schools must pay particular attention to attendance as measured by performance. While the notion of cyber-truancy continues to evolve, it must be addressed if K–12 online education is going to continue to be a viable and realistic choice for 21st century students.” (emphasis added)

In addition, the description of the lengths that one online school goes to work with at-risk students should be understood by all policymakers. At-risk students are choosing online schools in significant numbers, and understanding the issues associated with these choices is a challenge for policy and practice.

[1] Kathryn Kennedy has moved from iNACOL to the research arm of Michigan University since writing the paper.

[2] Cyber-Truancy: Addressing Issues of Attendance in the Digital Age. 2013. Journal of Research on Technology in Education. Volume 46 Number 1.