Attendance Works News

July 26th, 2016

A Top Pick for ESSA School Quality, Student Success Indicator

It’s probably no surprise that Attendance Works believes that chronic absence is one of the very best indicators a state could choose as its school quality and student success measure under the federal Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA). There are a number of reasons why.

Let’s start with the criteria that the U.S. Department of Education has established for each and every indicator a state might wish to include in its ESSA accountability rubric. Indicators must:

  1. Be applicable to every student;
  2. Be capable of being disaggregated by special education and English language learner status, as well as by poverty, race/ethnicity, gender, and school level;
  3. Be measured the same way across the state (comparable);
  4. Meaningfully distinguish performance levels among schools;
  5. Have evidence to show that they measure what they say they are measuring (validity);
  6. Have evidence that results are likely to be the same if the indicator were measured again (reliability);
  7. Be research-based; and,
  8. Have a proven impact on academic achievement.

While there are many measures a state might choose, very few actually meet all of these requirements. Chronic absence, however, does.

Next, let’s look at these eight requirements, one at a time.

First, all enrolled students are included in attendance counts; there are no students who are excluded. Second, chronic absence rates can be disaggregated, computed and reported for all subgroups of students in a school, district or state. Third, states already have protocols governing student attendance taking and reporting and must also track and report chronic absence to the US Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights. Hence, measures of chronic absence are comparable or about to become comparable across states (and nationally). Fourth, chronic absence levels vary substantially among schools. These variations are not random; they represent meaningful differences in student engagement, achievement and success. In other words, they differentiate between performance of schools.

Fifth, while we can debate whether a given standardized test truly measures a student’s subject matter mastery, a similar debate about measure validity does not apply to chronic absence. Test scores are measures of test success, which can be strongly or weakly related to subject matter mastery. Chronic absence, on the other hand, measures the number of days of school missed. Sixth, counting errors aside, taking attendance and computing chronic absence repeatedly will yield the same result. Finally, (seventh and eighth), there is more than enough information to make the case that attendance has a research base and proven links to academic achievement. Just browse the research on this website if you are not convinced.

As a measure, chronic absence has additional benefits. Because districts already collect attendance and chronic absence data, the financial and administrative costs to states and districts of using this measure will be relatively low. The same is not true for states that choose to adopt a measure that has to be developed, introduced to districts and schools, and supported until it is implemented. In addition, given the tight timeline states are on to complete plans and begin monitoring school performance, the fact that chronic absence is ready-to-go is a significant plus.

The final and, perhaps one of the most significant advantages of choosing chronic absence as a measure of school quality and student success is that parents, communities, policymakers, other stakeholders and students are beginning to understand that missing too much school is not a path to success. The common sense, easily understood nature of chronic absence augments the already considerable power of this simple measure.

We are developing a brief to provide information to state leaders and advocates about how chronic absence can enhance ESSA plans and school improvement. Send your comments via email to Sue Fothergill,, and let us know:

• Is chronic absence being considered by your state for the school quality and student success measure?
• What do you see as its benefits and drawbacks?
• What supports, evidence, and research do you need to make the case for using chronic absence?

We look forward to hearing from you!

Blog post by Jane Sundius, Senior Fellow

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June 29th, 2016

Data Tools to Drive Action

Too often, parents, students and sometimes teachers don’t realize how quickly absences, excused as well as unexcused, can add up to academic trouble. At the same time principals, district leaders and community members often don’t know if chronic absence is a significant problem in local schools.

Research shows that missing as little as 2-3 days every month is considered chronic absence, and can translate into third graders unable to master reading, sixth graders failing courses and ultimately, teens dropping out of high school. Screen Shot 2016-06-29 at 10.18.04 PM

We’ve found that the best way to identify students with poor attendance is to calculate the data that schools are already collecting. Analyzing local attendance data can help determine chronic absence levels, and show patterns across students and schools. This is a good first step towards designing strategies to help students get to class every day possible.

Analyzing district-level data also can highlight schools that are making good progress. What’s happening in these schools that serve similar populations of students, but are achieving better-than-average results? By looking into what works in these schools, you can identify effective practices that others could replicate.

We’ve partnered with Applied Survey Research and developed some tools to simplify the process. Please share with your districts, schools and communities. The self-calculating spreadsheets for school districts are called the District Attendance Tracking Tools (DATTs). These free tools are especially effective for smaller districts with more limited data capacity.

The companion tools are the School Attendance Tracking Tools (SATTs), which provide school-level analysis down to the individual student level.

The release of national chronic absence data from the US Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights (OCR) shows chronic absence data for most schools in every district in the country. The heat map (also on this page) developed by ED for its web based data story provides a quick view of the issue in each district.  The DATTs and SATTs can facilitate a deeper analysis of ED’s Civil Rights Data Collection (CRDC) for your district or school.

  • Click here to find our more about OCR’s national chronic absence data, including a link to Attendance Works’ guide to help filter the CRDC data for your state.
  • We looked at how state and local innovators are already using chronic absence analyses to galvanize action in our May 17, 2016 webinar. If you missed Using Data to Drive Action: Portraits of Chronic Absence, you can find the webinar recording and presentation slides here.

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June 28th, 2016

Attendance, Early Reading Success Featured in 2017 All-America City Awards

The National Civic League (NCL) and The Campaign for Grade-Level Reading are seeking applications for the 2017 All-America City Awards showing efforts to bring about measurable progress for low-income children on the key drivers of early reading success. Projects that demonstrate attendance, school readiness, summer learning and increasing the number of students reading at grade level are especially welcome.

NCL announced the 2017 award focus at a multi-day conference in Denver at which 10 cities received the 2016 award. Last year the awards sought projects aimed at improving health and educational success. More than 550 communities have won the All-America City Award since the program was launched in 1949. Click here to find the 2016 Award winners.

“These All-America cities are doing amazing work to engage their communities in helping to assure the well-being of young people,” said Doug Linkhart, President of the National Civic League. “We’re constantly impressed by their dedication in bringing together groups and individuals to address critical issues such as health and educational success. While there are certainly many other successful community engagement efforts to improve opportunities for young people, All-America City winners clearly rise to the top.”

Here is a schedule for the Application Process:

  • September 1, 2016 — Submit Letter of Intent to Apply
  • Filing a letter of intent will enable you to participate in a series of monthly webinars beginning this fall offered by the Campaign for Grade-Level Reading. The webinars are designed to support communities through the application and planning process, and will help communities develop plans for accelerating progress and reaching bigger outcomes on grade-level reading by 2020.
  • January 31, 2017 — Submit Application
  • Semi-finalists will be identified using a peer review process involving all applicants. Award-winners will be named at the NCL’s Annual Conference on June 14-17, 2017.
  • June 14-17, 2017 — All-America City Award Event

The All-America City Award event will take place in Denver, Colorado. The event is a multi-day celebration that includes peer-learning workshops, presentations from each finalist, panel discussions, and cultural showcases.

Click here for more information about the 2017 All-America City Award application.

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