COVID-19 Response

Brief Proposes Alternatives to Seat Time as a Measure of Student Learning

Is "seat time" really the optimal way to measure attendance during a pandemic? There are better alternatives, according to a new brief from the Aurora Institute (formerly iNACOL). The nonprofit advocates for "breakthrough policies" in K-12 education, including promoting competency-based education, which promotes a shift away from classroom time as an indicator of academic growth and towards showing mastery of concepts as a replacement.

In "Determining Attendance and Alternatives to Seat-Time," the authors have proposed that districts take advantage of COVID-19 to revisit "old-fangled" policies regarding attendance. Instead of measuring attendance based on the number of hours students spend "in" the classroom, which has no meaning when school is delivered remotely, they could be using alternatives such as:

  • Time on task;

  • Participation;

  • Evidence of student work; and

  • Demonstrations of improved skills, competencies and knowledge.

The key to success will probably start at the state level, however, since attendance policies are often locked into place by law.

As the report noted, "Developing simple counts of student attendance during COVID-19 school closures may be less educationally meaningful than investing in strategies that boost student motivation, thereby increasing engagement." One way to boost student engagement, the authors suggested, is to have advisors (not just teachers but staff as well) call every student daily to check in on academic progress and find out how he or she is doing otherwise.

The brief has profiled 10 approaches for creating attendance policies in as many states. Oregon law, as an example, lets districts allow students to show mastery in several ways (completing classroom work, passing an exam, providing a portfolio of work showing proficiency or providing documentation of learning activities and experiences that show proficiency). New York law uses similar techniques as well as student participation in online forums or phone calls.

The eight-page brief is openly available on the Aurora Institute website.

About the Author

Dian Schaffhauser is a former senior contributing editor for 1105 Media's education publications THE Journal, Campus Technology and Spaces4Learning.