Tuesday, December 29, 2015


Congress makes school attendance a national priority

By Tom Chorneau. SI&A Cabinet Report | http://bit.ly/1IBKW5x

Posted December 15, 2015  ::  (District of Columbia) Increasing the emphasis on getting more of the nation’s K-12 students to show up for class, the newly-approved federal education law will require Title I schools to report chronic absenteeism broken down by subgroup.

The Every Student Succeeds Act, signed by President Barack Obama last week, does away with the most onerous accountability mandate on schools – adequate yearly progress – while giving states new flexibility to design and implement their own systems for measuring student performance.

But Congress retained some key requirements such as annual assessments in grades three through eight and once in high school for math and English language arts, as well as the need to continue to identify persistently underperforming schools.

ESSA calls on states to create accountability systems that use multiple measures to gauge student outcome. The bill requires that states receiving Title I money must also collect and report “measures of school quality, climate and safety…”

Among the metrics listed that must be broken down by subgroup is chronic absenteeism – both excused and unexcused.

“It is good news that chronic absence data is included in the ESSA reauthorization for Title I schools because it moves us closer to the day when all districts will be using chronic absence data and acting on it,” said David Kopperud, an education programs consultant with the California Department of Education who helps oversee statewide attendance issues.

Long overlooked as a vehicle for improving public education, attendance is increasingly viewed as a fundamental first step in boosting student performance – especially among early learners.

According to a study from Johns Hopkins University, chronic absenteeism in kindergarten was associated with lower academic performance in first through third grade. Johns Hopkins researchers also found a strong relationship between sixth-grade attendance and the percentage of students graduating on time or within a year of their expected high school graduation.

The University of Chicago reported last year that attendance and grades were the two greatest predictors of later academic performance among middle school students.

A number of states have already taken steps to address chronic absenteeism by making schools keep better track of attendance rates and report the numbers publicly.

In California, for instance, as many as 230,000 elementary students missed more than 18 days in 2014-15. As a result, lawmakers there have included attendance as one of the educational goals that districts must report on and set goals to improve – especially for low income students, English learners and foster youth.

The language adopted by Congress is similar:

‘‘(viii) Information submitted by the State educational agency and each local educational agency in the State, in accordance with data collection conducted pursuant to section 203(c)(1) of the Department of Education Organization Act (20 U.S.C. 3413(c)(1)), on –
‘‘(I) measures of school quality, climate, and safety, including rates of in-school suspensions, out-of-school suspensions, expulsions, school-related arrests, referrals to law enforcement, chronic absenteeism (including both excused and unexcused absences), incidences of violence, including bullying and harassment;…”

Kopperud points out that the new law requires chronic absenteeism rates to be disaggregated by all the significant subgroups, including racial and ethnic subgroups as well as subgroups for homeless students and foster youth.

He noted that ESSA will also allow Title II funds to be used for professional development in chronic absence reduction strategies.

One potential issue for California schools could be the definition of “chronic absenteeism.” The state sets the mark at any student missing 10 percent of the school year, while the new federal Title I rule is based on missing 15 days of the school year.



How A School’s Attendance Number Hides Big Problems

By Elissa Nadworny,Texas Public Radio |http://bit.ly/1YMft7D

Image credit: LA Johnson / NPR

Posted December 7, 2015  ::  Every morning, the familiar routine plays out in hundreds of thousands of classrooms: A teacher looks out over the desks, taking note of who's in their seats and who isn't.

On any given day, maybe there are one or two empty chairs. One here, one there. And that all goes into the school's daily attendance rate.

But here's what that morning ritual doesn't show: That empty desk? It might be the same one that was empty last week or two weeks ago. The desk of a student who has racked up five, 10, 20 absences this year.

It's called chronic absence. The official definition: missing more than 10 percent of the school year — just two days a month.

And the real-life implication: a warning sign for a student on the brink of failing or dropping out.
Experts call chronic absence an "unseen force" hidden behind average daily attendance figures of 90 or 95 percent that schools hail as a sign of success.

"Daily attendance averages tell you how many students show up every day," says Hedy Chang, who heads Attendance Works, a nonprofit education policy group. "But not how many are missing so much school that they are headed off track academically."

Yet there's a growing effort to pull that chronic absence figure out of the shadows. The U.S. Education Department has taken note: Next year, for the first time ever, it will release school-level data on how many U.S. students missed 15 or more days of school.

The Math Problem

To understand how deceptive attendance numbers can be, take a look at Baltimore. This year, the elementary attendance rate in the Baltimore city public schools is 93 percent. Anything in the 90s is an A — so that's good, right?

But, look more closely and you find that nearly 20 percent of students in grades one through five have missed more than 20 days of school. That's more than 6,000 children.

"As a statistic, attendance can hide patterns," says Mark Gaither, principal at Wolfe Street Academy, an elementary school in Baltimore. He would know. Ten years ago, his school was in bad shape. Test scores were terrible, and the state was threatening to take over.

But when he arrived, he focused on attendance, then in the low 90s. "Not abysmal," he thought at the time.

He soon discovered that day in, day out, it was the same students who were not showing up. And these kids, he says, "were missing 30 percent of their education."

Not surprisingly, these were the students struggling the most in basic things like learning to read.
"That was the performance gap," Gaither says. "The devil is in the details — the devil is in the individual child. If we don't get this kid to school, they're going to fail."

So he launched a kid-by-kid campaign — heavily focused on data — to raise attendance. And today, the school has just a handful of chronically absent kids — and much higher test scores.

Taking A Different Approach

A growing number of school districts are doing what Gaither did: using data to attack this problem head-on.

Patterson Elementary School in southeast Washington, D.C., is a good example.

Every Thursday morning, Principal Victorie Thomas convenes a small group in the school's conference room. Sitting around the oval table are several social workers, the attendance monitor and a City Year volunteer. They all have a stack of paper: a kid-by-kid list of absences of the school year to date.

What they're doing is searching for patterns, highlighting names of students who have missed three or more days. Then, they share from their different perspectives what they know about each student.

They start with the youngest kids. They talk about home visits, discuss what community resources may be available and make plans to call families and talk to teachers about what might be going on.

"We go child-by-child because that's how important it is to us," says Thomas. "One day can make a big difference."

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