This is the second in our blog 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). ESSA provides states new flexibility to evaluate school performance using more than just test scores. As this table shows, many state ESSA accountability plans include chronic absenteeism, or other related indicators, as measures of school quality. Beginning in 2018, these schools will be held responsible for meeting student attendance and other achievement goals. (Read our first blog, Making the Most of Attendance Indicators.)
Why is the quality of attendance data so important?
Including chronic absence in accountability systems means that states will depend on these data to identify schools that need extra support or interventions. And more importantly, it means that schools are more likely to have the data they need to intervene throughout the year to prevent student failure and disengagement that is so likely to result from poor attendance. This is the great power of attendance data – it can provide critical, “just-in-time” information to school-level staff, and cumulative, end-of-year data to parents, state leaders and other stakeholders.
At the same time, the adoption of chronic absence as an indicator can present a hurdle for schools, because it requires daily data collection and many data collectors. This reality means that states and districts must establish daily attendance-taking systems that are easy to use, hard to ignore, securely maintained, and capable of producing timely and actionable reports for educators. In addition, data definitions and collection protocols must yield comparable statewide and summative reports that are clear and accessible to stakeholders.
How do you know your state’s student attendance data are high quality?
High quality student attendance data has several characteristics: It can be compared across districts and schools; it’s transparent, secure, and is supported by district policies and procedures. Ask the questions below about your state’s student attendance data (or ask your state’s education leadership to answer these questions!) Then, consider the following suggestions to improve the quality of these data:
Are the data comparable across districts and schools?
Steps to improve comparability
Are the data transparent?
Steps to improve transparency
Are the data secure?
Steps to improve data security
Updating district policies and procedures for attendance supervision
State leaders should be prepared to look critically at student attendance data and answer questions about the processes and decisions behind the numbers. The quality of these data depends upon the daily buy-in of teachers and school-level staff. Over time, public scrutiny of the day can help improve the quality of the data and higher quality can increase trust in using the data to inform practice and policy.
Much of the power of chronic absence emerges when it is used as a diagnostic measure, rather than a year-end accountability measure. If these attendance data are to be of high quality and used, not just reported, schools and districts must be encouraged — not punished — for honest reporting and proactive use of the data.
We would like to express our appreciation to Elizabeth Dabney, Director of Research and Policy for the Data Quality Campaign and Jane Sundius, Senior Fellow for Attendance Work for significantly contributing to the content of this blog.
We’d like to hear from you about ESSA planning and implementation. Please share your comments with Sue Fothergill, Associate Director of Policy, at Sue@attendanceworks.org.