Archive for the ‘Research’ Category

July 30th, 2015

Change the Way the Feds Collect Attendance Data

Two years ago, the federal government took an enormous step toward providing the first national data on chronic absenteeism. The Education Department’s Office of Civil Rights  (OCR) asked the school districts it surveys to report how many students are missing 15 or more days in a school year. The data will be released for the first time next spring, providing a font of information about the who, what and where of chronic absence. We can’t wait to dig into it.

But we want more. OCR is asking for input by Monday, Aug. 3, on its Civil Rights Data Collection program, and Attendance Works is submitting these comments. We encourage you to submit comments as well on this link. Feel free to lift any or all of the comments we’ve developed.

Chiefly we want OCR to change its definition of chronic absence from missing 15 days to missing 10 percent of the school year. There are several reasons.

  1.  Greater inclusion of highly mobile, homeless and foster children: These groups, all of whom have among the highest rates of absenteeism, often move in and out of schools or even districts before accruing 15 absences in a year. Thus, OCR’s current measure could undercount the absenteeism problem among some of our most vulnerable populations. When Utah looked at data for all its districts, it found that homeless students were 2.5 times more likely and mobile students were 4.2 times more likely to be chronically absent than their peers. All states should have access to this sort of information.
  2. Better comparison across states: A percentage provides a better metric for comparison across states, which vary widely in the length of the school year. Fifteen absences mean something different when the school year is 170 days, vs. 190 days. A 10% metric provides a standard for comparing state to state, a key role of OCR’s data collection efforts. Also, using the 10% measure ensures that districts that require more school days would not be penalized, given that a longer school year increases the likelihood of a student reaching the 15-day threshold.
  3. Alignment with research and state policy: Researchers are increasingly defining chronic absence as missing 10% or more of the school year and are producing a body of research that shows the decidedly negative consequences of missing that much school: weaker social skills in kindergarten, difficulty reading in third grade, higher retention rates and increased dropout rates. Some states – including California, Connecticut, Hawaii, Indiana, Ohio and Oregon – have adopted that definition.. By using a 10% measure, OCR would align its data collection with that of leading researchers and several states..
  4. Ease of calculation: Providing a percentage of days is not that much harder than providing a number. Once a district has calculated how many days a student missing, data teams can convert the number into a percentage. Attendance Works offers free data tools for anyone having trouble making the conversion. In California, Eagle Software, which produces the AERIES student information system used by nearly half of the state’s districts, has created a easy-to-use download into these attendance tracking tools and is working to add chronic absence tracking into its real-time data dashboards.

In addition to changing the definition, we’re asking OCR to request chronic absence information by grade level,  along with existing information on race, ethnicity and demographic status such as students with disabilities and students with English as a second language. Without grade level breakouts, OCR and school districts could miss the fact chronic absenteeism often starts as early as kindergarten and first grade, slowing development of key academic and social skills needed to succeed in school. key populations affected by chronic absence.. There is a precedent for collecting grade level data as CRDC currently tracks retention by grade level.

Like OCR, we see data collection as essential to ensuring that all children, especially those from protected classes, have an equal opportunity to learn. Attendance data, used properly, can be an early warning sign that a student, a school or an entire district is headed off track. But too many places miss that warning signal because they focus only on how many students show up every day or on truancy or unexcused absences. In both cases, they fail to realize the toll that excused absences can take on student achievement. All states need sufficient data to assess what schools, communities and student groups have the biggest problems. OCR can compel that data collection with a requirement for requiring the number of students who miss 10% of the school year.



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July 21st, 2015

Bright Spot: Perfectly Punctual in Marshalltown

Bright Spots are written and produced by the Campaign for Grade-Level Reading to showcase the work in communities to make progress on school readiness, school attendance and summer learning by 2016. Continue reading below or download a PDF version.

Preschoolers in the small Iowa city of Marshalltown look forward to monthly visits from Punctual Pete — a bilingual costumed crusader dressed as a giant clock (set at 8 a.m.) who reads to the children and distributes bracelets featuring the words, “I’m here and ready to learn.”

“The children get excited,” says Karina Hernandez, project coordinator for Marshalltown’s grade-level reading campaign (and the person inside the giant clock costume).

The mascot is a component of the Perfectly Punctual Campaign (PPC), a nationally available program that Marshalltown uses to address two GLR Campaign focus areas — reducing chronic absenteeism and increasing school readiness.

“Kids need to be prepared to go into school with a good attendance pattern, and the more time they’re in preschool, the more they benefit from an early learning program that prepares them for kindergarten,” says Clarissa Thompson of Mid-Iowa Community Action, Inc. (MICA), the lead organization for Marshalltown’s GLR effort, Spread the Words – Read by 3rd!

Among 30 communities honored by the Campaign as a 2014 Pacesetter, Marshalltown — a high-poverty, ethnically diverse community — saw its number of school-ready kindergartners increase from 25 to 32 percent between 2011-2012 and 2013-2014, as measured by the DIBELS Next assessment. Over four years through 2013-2014, the number of Marshalltown children reading proficiently by the end of third grade increased from 63 to almost 69 percent as measured by the Iowa Assessments.

PPC comes from LearnLead, based in Washington, D.C., which offers programs to strengthen school readiness and early school success for young children from low-income families by engaging parents and educators.

Launched in Marshalltown in 2013, PPC reaches 224 children in 14 preschool classrooms, most are part of the Head Start program operated by MICA. Students receive a calendar to track their classroom attendance, adding a sticker or stamp for each day they attend. They take the calendar home monthly to show their parents.

Three PPC family activity nights help parents create nighttime and morning routines to help their children regularly attend school on time. “It really engages the parents and that’s our opportunity to give them information,” says Hernandez. Attendance data are collected monthly and sent to LearnLead, which provides feedback.

Marshalltown’s other school readiness strategies include free training to early childhood program providers and home visitors on ways to foster young children’s social-emotional well-being and literacy. “Children’s social-emotional development is the foundation of their learning,” says Thompson. “If that’s not in order, the literacy won’t come.”

At the training, school readiness tip cards with easy activities to boost early literacy — such as making a small reading corner for a child — are distributed. Developed by Marshalltown’s GLR school readiness steering committee and teachers, the tips also are made available to parents via the Marshalltown campaign’s Facebook page. Twelve small paper cards (one for each month) are attached to a metal ring, the tips are designed so various users can do the same activity.

“Then they’re all on the same page,” says Thompson. “People need to know what literacy skills are important to have prior to school so we focused on basic things anyone in the community needs to know and can do.”

Another school readiness strategy that also addresses the Campaign’s summer learning focus area is a free two-week summer camp for 45 children, designed to ease their transition into preschool or kindergarten at a specific elementary school serving many low-income families.

Funded by MICA and other local organizations, the June camp recruits door-to-door in order to reach families not yet connected to a school and/or an early childhood program. The camp is staffed by preschool and kindergarten teachers who report that it helps acclimate young children to the classroom.

“After this, everyone starts the school year two or three months ahead of schedule because the kids have already been through that transition,” says Thompson. “The earlier we can intervene, provide education and confront issues, the better the outcomes and results we’ll have.”

For more information, contact Karina Hernandez at 641-752-7162 ext. 108 or karina.hernandez@micaonline.orgPhotos: Spread the Words  – Read by3rd!; Publication Date: Summer 2015.To nominate a community to be featured as a Bright Spot, please contact Betsy Rubiner at


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July 20th, 2015

MENTOR releases attendance toolkit

Recognizing the effect that mentors have on improving school attendance and academic success, MENTOR: The National Mentoring Partnership has released a promotional toolkit with mentoring-specific social media messages to be distributed to all campaign convening partners, collaborating partners and supporters. Download it here.

Studies of formal mentoring programs have shown:

  • Students who meet regularly with their mentors are 52% less likely than their peers to skip a day of school.
  • Students who meet regularly with their mentors are 37% less likely than their peers to skip a class.
  • Students at-risk for not graduating were 36% more likely to aspire to enroll in and graduate from college if they had a mentor.
  • Youth who had a mentor growing up are 55% more likely to later be enrolled in college.
  • Students who have a mentor are 130% more likely to lead in sport/club.

MENTOR is part of the Attendance Awareness Campaign and has designated  the week of September 14, 2015, as The Mentoring Effect & Attendance Week! The goals are to:

  • Increase awareness about how quality mentoring can be leveraged as a strategy to improve attendance and thereby improve academic achievement.
  • Reach new audiences tracking issues related to education, academic achievement and dropout and graduation rates.

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