Archive for the ‘Research’ Category

January 20th, 2016

ESSA Guidance Should Focus On Effective Use of Chronic Absence Data

The US Department of Education invited comments on the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), signed by President Obama on Dec. 10, 2015. After reaching out to our partners for input, we submitted recommendations for the creation of guidance around the chronic absence provisions in the new law. The ESSA requires that states report chronic absenteeism rates, and allows districts to spend federal dollars on training to reduce absenteeism.

The comments encourage the DOE to create guidance that we believe will ensure the effective use of chronic absence data. You can see a summary of our comments below. Click here to read the full comments that we submitted on Jan. 21, 2016. Several partners built upon our recommendations to craft their own. You can also read the comments from California’s Attorney General.

Our comments reflect our delight that the ESSA recognizes that no one measure of success is sufficient for examining whether a school is effectively meeting the needs of its students. In particular, we appreciate the requirement that schools must report on chronic absence (missing too much school for any reason). Armed with this information, schools—often together with community partners—can help students get the additional supports they need to overcome barriers to getting to school. After all, students will only benefit from our investments in high quality instruction and teaching if they are in the classroom.

Our recommendations include:

1. Encourage districts to take an early warning approach. Advise schools to monitor when students miss 10% or more of school and use those data to trigger intervention throughout the year. Guidance should recommend that districts provide reports to schools on which and how many students are at risk of missing too much school on a weekly or bi-weekly basis, if not in real time. Timely access to such data is essential to prevention and early intervention.

2. Adopt a common 10% reporting requirement. One challenge with the 15-day measure is that it does not correspond to the 10% definition cited by other federal agencies (for example, in the newly launched Federal initiative on chronic absenteeism, Every Student, Every Day) and already being used by numerous states. Connecticut, Indiana, Iowa, Mississippi, New Jersey, Ohio, Oregon, Rhode Island, and Tennessee have already begun producing reports on how many students are missing 10% or more of school. A common reporting requirement would reduce confusion as well as allow for better comparisons across states and localities.

3. Encourage school districts to message to families about the impact of chronic absence. School districts must allocate at least 1% of Title I dollars for parent engagement. Encourage districts to use these resources to help parents understand why daily attendance matters and what steps they can take to nurture a habit of attendance as well as get help with addressing barriers to getting to school.

4. Encourage schools to incorporate attention to attendance into a multi-tiered system of support (MTSS). Such an approach will encourage schools to focus on prevention and early intervention and leverage a framework that many educators are familiar with. Title II funding could be used to support such professional development.

5. Encourage districts to identify and enlist community agencies in addressing chronic absence. Encourage districts to forge partnerships with public agencies and non-profits. Include information about how data can be shared without violating confidentiality requirements.

6. Support the inclusion of chronic absence data in school report cards. Such information is essential to helping parents understand what is happening in schools and for helping community partners identify schools in need of their resources.

7. Promote the reporting of chronic absence by grade level. Such data are critical to targeting interventions to the students who are struggling the most. Without grade level breakouts, school districts can easily overlook high levels of chronic absence starting in kindergarten and first grade. Chronic absence is typically highest in these early elementary grades, which are so critical to the development of key academic and social skills needed to succeed in school. Such patterns are easily masked when examining data for an entire elementary school, since children in the older grades typically have much better attendance.

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December 16th, 2015

Best Practices for Texting Families

Given that 90 percent of families now use cellphones, educators across the country are experimenting with texting as a way to reach parents. Some schools are texting to deliver messages about school attendance. We don’t yet have research to show the efficacy of that approach. But in a blog post in Education Week, Harvard researchers Todd Rogers and Kim Bohling offered some tips for educators who text. Here are five take aways:

  1. Be specific. Text about a student’s absences versus the overall importance of attendance; if possible, suggest an action.
  2. Be personal. Use names and the right personal pronouns.
  3. Be brief. If your texts go longer than 160 characters they may break into two messages.
  4. Be strategic: Don’t bombard families with too many texts. Reserve them for the information you need to share.
  5. Be positive: Be sure to let families know when something is going right. That makes it a little easier when you’ve got bad news to deliver.

Read the full blog post here.

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December 10th, 2015

New Federal Education Law Includes Chronic Absence Tracking, Training

States will be required to report chronic absenteeism rates for schools, and school districts will be allowed to spend federal dollars on training to reduce absenteeism, under a sweeping education bill signed into law by President Obama on Dec. 10.

The Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), a reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act or No Child Left Behind, represents the first time that federal education law specifically mentions this measure of attendance. Chronic absence differs from truancy in that it tracks both excused and unexcused absences.

Its inclusion reflects the increasing awareness in Washington and across the country that chronic absence is a key indicator for assessing school and student success.

In October, the White House and four federal agencies – Education, Health and Human Services, Housing and Urban Development, and Justice – launched the cross sector Every Student, Every Day initiative with a goal of reducing chronic absenteeism by 10 percent a year. And in spring 2016, the Education Department’s Office of Civil Rights (OCR) will, for the first time, release chronic absence data for schools across the country. The data will show how many students missed 15 days in excused or unexcused absences.

The ESSA measure, crafted by House and Senate negotiators in a conference committee, gives states more power to set their own accountability standards, testing policies and strategies for turning around struggling schools. This Education Week blog post provides lots of helpful detail.

Several states have already begun using chronic absenteeism as an accountability metric. New Jersey, Hawaii and Oregon added the measure through waivers to the prior federal education act. California requires local districts to report on chronic absence in their local funding plans; Connecticut has built it into its school improvement process; and Georgia makes it part of its school climate work.

We hope that more states will take this opportunity to hold schools and districts accountable for chronic absenteeism. The legislation contains two brief, but important mentions of the issue.

In the first instance, chronic absenteeism appears on a list of metrics  (page 47) that must be included on report cards that states submit to the federal government. Under the new law’s language, the information must be broken down by various student subgroups, including racial and ethnic identity and disability status, as well as homeless and foster care students. You’ll notice the same section also calls for tracking suspensions and expulsions, which also contribute to school absenteeism. Here’s the language:

  • ‘‘(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; and

In the second instance, chronic absenteeism appears on a list of professional development topics (page 128) for which schools and districts can use federal dollars to provide training under Title II:

  • ‘‘(iv) addressing issues related to school conditions for student learning, such as safety, peer interaction, drug and alcohol abuse, and chronic absenteeism;

The measure provides no definition of chronic absence, except to say that it includes excused and unexcused absences. Attendance Works and several states define it as missing 10 percent of the school year, or about 18 days. The new law says that when states submit their report cards, they must use the federal government’s reporting requirements. Here’s the exact language:

  • “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)),” 






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