Archive for the ‘Featured Article’ Category

July 27th, 2017

Making the Most of Attendance Indicators

This blog is the first of a series in which we highlight attendance-related issues that are emerging as states work through the complexities of responding to the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA). We hope to stimulate conversation among those on the front lines of ESSA planning and implementation. We’d like to hear from you. Please share your comments with Sue Fothergill, Associate Director of Policy, at

The recently submitted state plans for implementing the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) show that chronic absence is gaining traction as an indicator of school quality and student success. As this chart shows, the majority—14 out of the 17 officially submitted ESSA plans—includes some variant of chronic absence as an accountability indicator and many other states with plans in preparation seem likely to follow suit.

Attendance Works is excited by the opportunity that the increased focus on chronic absence provides because it has the potential to increase student achievement substantially. We now know that excessive student absences are a proven, widespread, and consequential problem in American schools. National data from the Office for Civil Rights shows that at least 6.8 million public school students missed 15 or more days of school in 2013-14, and it affects at least 89 percent of the nation’s school districts. Several high quality research studies   show that the impact of chronic absence leads to lower achievement,  disengagement  and often dropout. Yet chronic absence can be reversed and, when attendance improves, student achievement is likely to improve.

While many states have added, or are considering including, attendance measures to their accountability systems, the nature of the indicator and definitions of chronic absence differ, as do their attendance goals and intervention points. We believe that some of these differences are critical because the choices states make may determine how powerful attendance and chronic absence are as measures of school quality and student success. One of the most promising developments is that ten of the states with formally submitted ESSA plans have chosen to define chronic absence as missing 10 percent of school days. We recommend that states adopt this particular definition for two critical reasons: first, it has a proven ability to identify students who are at very high risk of academic failure due to absences; and, second, using it will allow for comparisons across states and districts nationwide, even if the lengths of their school years differ.

Using a positive indicator  

A second approach that is surfacing in a few states is the use of a positive metric, one that attempts to measure the percentage of students who have good attendance, rather than the percentage chronically absent. This approach is laudable. Our resources  are chock full of positive messaging, student and family engagement strategies and other approaches to improving student attendance in this way.

However, choosing an effective, appropriate positive indicator is not so simple.

Take for example the most obvious positive metric: the percentage of children who are not chronically absent, or those that attend more than 90 percent of days. This type of metric won’t distinguish between students who just met the measure—missing  17 days—and those who had much better attendance such as missing 5 days out of an entire school year. It’s important to understand that, while chronic absence can reliably identify students at high risk of failure due to absences, its inverse should not be considered a reliable indicator of students at low risk of academic failure due to absences. This is because research suggests that low risk students attend, on average, 95 percent or more of school days.

So why shouldn’t states adopt a standard of 95 percent as satisfactory attendance?

What we have heard from some states is that too many of their schools, and particularly their high schools, would not meet this standard. At the same time, choosing a 90 percent or higher attendance indicator and giving it a positive label (such as “persistent,” or “consistent,” attendance) can send the wrong message: namely, that students need only attend more than 90 percent of school days to be successful. This may have the unintended consequence of setting the bar for attendance too low.

For this reason, and others we have outlined in our policy brief, Chronic Absence: Our Top Pick,  Attendance Works believes that the chronic absence indicator, defined as missing 10 percent or more of school days, is the best bet for state accountability systems. Including chronic absence in accountability systems and improvement plans ensures that schools and districts respond to chronic absence as the emergency that it is.

However, if a state is committed to a positive attendance measure, our next recommendation is to use two indicators: satisfactory attendance, defined as attending 95 percent or more of school days, and chronic absence, again, defined as missing 10 percent or more of school days. Taken together, these indicators would communicate the level of attendance that gives students the best chance of success and would ensure that students at high risk of academic failure due to their attendance receive the attention they need. What about states that cannot include two measures in their accountability systems and are committed to using the more-than-90 percent attendance measure?

We suspect they will have to do additional education and training to send the message that satisfactory attendance is 95 percent or better. They will need to look at how they use a range of strategies, such as school report cards, workshops with families, professional development with school staff, etc., to communicate that students and families will need to set higher attendance goals, significantly above 90 percent, to ensure absences are not contributing to poor academic outcomes.

Now it’s your turn. For those readers in the thick of dealing with these issues and decisions, tell us what your state is doing. How is it handling attendance indicators? How can we make the most of the ESSA opportunity and maximize the impact of attendance indicators? Send us an email to Sue Fothergill, at

Jane Sundius, Senior Fellow, and Hedy Chang, Executive Director, Attendance Works

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July 14th, 2017

Educators respond to immigration policies

Educators in states across the country are seeing that current immigration policy changes are leading to increased chronic absence. As a way to reassure parents and students that school is a safe place for learning, states, districts and schools have posted resources as a way to encourage immigrant students to continue getting to school every day. We’ve collected a few for you.

Resources range from letters sent to school communities and families reaffirming anti-discrimination polices, to toolkits with tips for dealing with anxious students, to videos for parents on how to communicate with their young children on topics that are particularly difficult to tackle, such as bullying. Watch this video, in Spanish with English subtitles, from Abriendo Puertas/Opening Doors.

Many districts offer fact sheets with answers to questions such as, ‘What impact does undocumented immigration status have on my child’s education?’ and ‘If I am a parent or guardian and I am worried about being detained while my child is at school, what should I do?’

Educators are careful when clarifying that the resources aren’t meant to express a particular political belief or viewpoint. The Contra Costa County Office of Education‘s Communications Department, for example, noted that the resources on its website are provided as “a helpful tool in communicating the message of compassion and support for students so that they know they are safe and can continue to learn, lead and achieve to the best of their abilities.”

We know that 6.8 million students were chronically absent in the 2013-14 school year. Studies show that missing just 10 percent or more of school – just two days per month – predicts lower levels of numeracy and literacy by third grade, class failure in middle school and higher likelihood of high school dropout. It also indicates that students will have lower levels of persistence in college.

“We are hearing about immigrant families being so fearful that they don’t want to send their kids to school,” says Hedy N. Chang, executive director of Attendance Works. “Being in class every day is critical for academic achievement. We know that all students are more likely to come to school, and parents are more likely to take their kids to school, when they feel their school is a safe place for learning.”

In states such as California, with the most diverse population in the country, as well as Connecticut and New York, state education chiefs released letters committing to protect student privacy, to educate all students regardless of immigration status and offering educators guidance on how to proceed. “My strongest commitment to you, your students and their families is that schools remain safe places to learn,” California State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson wrote in a letter to local educational agencies (LEAs).

District superintendents sent letters to reassure families and students. And school boards adopted resolutions limiting the ability of immigration agents to enter campuses and the collection of information about immigration status. In one example, Superintendent Nancy Sarra of Consolidated School district of New Britain, Connecticut sent a letter pledging support for New Britain’s immigrant and refugee students and their families.

Here is a sampling of school district resources designed to inform teachers, immigrant families and students about their legal rights:

Other organizations have resources and information about services available to immigrant and refugee families affected by policy changes. Here is a sample:

Check out the websites of local and state educators in your community to find out what resources are available!

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June 14th, 2017

Celebrating the Catalytic Role of Philanthropy

On June 13th and 14th, Attendance Works participated in the 2017 Campaign for Grade-Level Reading Funder Huddle in Denver. The Huddle brought together over 200+ executives and program officers from family and community foundations, United Ways and corporate giving programs, and provided an invaluable opportunity for funders to exchange ideas about how to address chronic absence as part of a comprehensive strategy for ensuring young children ready by the third grade. As the mini-plenary closing speaker on June 14th, Hedy Chang, Attendance Works’ Executive Director, shared how this is a watershed moment during which states and communities have the opportunity to leverage the changes in federal law to address chronic absence.

The mini-plenary, Chronic Absence as a Policy-Worthy Lever for Change, offered an especially robust forum for sharing ideas. The speakers focused on the many states working to comply with the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) are adopting chronic absence as an indicator of school quality or student success. The ESSA requires states to measure school quality and improves on the No Child Left Behind Act by allowing states and districts to round out their accountability rubrics with measures beyond test scores. In addition to meeting ESSA accountability requirements, the inclusion of chronic absence in state accountability rubrics also provides real opportunities for states, districts and philanthropists to achieve the goals of the Campaign for Grade-Level Reading, to increase the number of children from low-income families reading proficiently at the end of third grade. As this chart shows, 14 out of the 17 officially submitted ESSA plans includes chronic absence.

A key theme was the value of using data to show the impact of chronic absence on student achievement. Speakers also showed how data can help schools and communities to notice and take action when students are missing so much school they are academically at risk.

This timely discussion featured Candice McQueen, Education Commissioner for Tennessee, Carey Wright, State Superintendent for Mississippi Department of Education, Candice McQueen, Education Commissioner for Tennessee, Charlene Russell-Tucker, Chief Operating Officer for the Connecticut State Department of Education and Tom Boasberg, Superintendent of Denver Public Schools.

Equally important, the forum created an opportunity for Attendance Works to showcase the role that philanthropy can play in reducing chronic absence by honoring Jim Williamson, President of the Community Foundation of Greater New Britain. Jim’s commitment and passion for children has had a catalytic influence and played a critical role in launching and sustaining the New Britain, Campaign for Grade Level Reading.

In particular, Jim’s leadership led New Britain educators to use data to realize they had a problem with chronic absence, and encouraged them bring together key stakeholders to identify and implement solutions. The resulting practices and dramatic reductions in chronic absence in New Britain have had ripple effects across Connecticut and ultimately the nation. “Connecticut is the first state in the nation to show consistent reductions in chronic absence for three years in a row,” Hedy said. “Jim Williamson serves as an inspiring example of how philanthropy, especially a local community foundation can have an enduring impact on improving outcomes for children.”

As the mini-plenary closing speaker, Hedy shared how today is in a watershed moment during which states and communities have the opportunity to leverage the changes accompanying the shift from No Child Left Behind to ESSA. In particular, the changes in the education law can support using chronic absence as a diagnostic tool for identifying and addressing barriers to learning and helping to target the use of community resources. “The key is ensuring policy makers and schools take a supportive rather than punitive framework,” Hedy told participants.

Hedy offered a number of recommendations to funders including:

  • Find out if chronic absence is in your state’s ESSA plan or state reports
  • Promote use of chronic absence as a diagnostic tool for identifying and addressing barriers to learning, especially for vulnerable students
  • Convene stakeholders to review data and develop solutions
  • Identify key grantees who can advance the issue in your community and state
  • Build public awareness, understanding and a sense of urgency for reducing chronic absence
  • Encourage local superintendents to sign up for the Attendance Awareness Month Call to Action and play a leadership role

Especially prepared for the GLR Campaign, this brief Leveraging ESSA’s New Accountability Requirements for Chronic Absence: Investment Recommendations for Philanthropy offers additional insights and ideas.

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