School buses are parked in Hartford on Thursday, June 25. Yehyun Kim / CT Mirror
A classroom is set up for the fall semester at Middletown High School. 

Taking attendance at school has never been easy, but now, with students in class both in person and online because of the pandemic, the task is as tricky as it is critical to their education.

Particularly concerned about whether students will show up to virtual classes, the state education department is developing ways to keep track of student participation statewide — in every learning format.

During a State Board of Education meeting Wednesday, Ajit Gopalakrishnan, chief performance officer for the education department, said one of the ways officials plan to track participation is by setting up a required weekly collection of data from districts about what learning model they are currently using — in-person, hybrid or remote.  They are aware that formats could change mid-year depending on the pandemic’s impact on the districts.

In addition, the state plans to track on a weekly basis whether students, especially those who are learning remotely, are connecting to their lessons. They also hope to get a sense of how students are attending school, whether remotely or in-person, by collecting attendance data monthly.

“We are confident that with these tools, we will actually be able to have a better sense and can cite what is happening in our districts on a regular basis,” Gopalakrishnan said.

In August, the state sent out a survey to districts asking them what their plans are going into the new school year. Nearly 57% of districts said they planned to kick off the year with in-person learning or transition to it within four weeks; 41.2% said they wanted to start with or eventually shift to a hybrid model of in-person and remote learning; and a few districts said they would offer remote-only learning for the foreseeable future.

But some districts have had to recently delay their start dates or revamp their initial plans due to staffing or health concerns. Danbury Public Schools, for example, changed their opening plan because of a recent spike in positive COVID-19 cases in that area, while Hamden Public Schools pushed back their start date because of staff shortages.

Officials said during Wednesday’s meeting that the state’s plan to consistently keep track of what’s happening in districts is intended to catch problems with participation and attendance early in the school year. When schools shut down due to the pandemic last spring, a quarter of students did not show up to or were minimally present during distance learning.

“For us, it’s really important that we set up systems to ensure that we don’t have 2,000 kids that are unaccounted for the first couple of weeks of school,” said Commissioner of Education Miguel Cardona. “That won’t happen.”

The status of Connecticut’s school reopening plans as of Aug. 11. Conditions have already forced several district plans to change.

Adria is CT Mirror's Education and Community Reporter. She grew up in Oakland, graduated from Sacramento State where she was co-news editor of the student newspaper, and worked as a part-time reporter at CalMatters (the California version of CT Mirror). Most recently Adria interned at The Marshall Project, a national nonprofit news organization that reports on criminal justice issues. Adria is one of CT Mirror’s Report For America Corps Members.

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