January 24th, 2012

Policy Brief Spells Out Strategy for Waivers

Is your state applying for a waiver from No Child Left Behind? If so, this could be an opportunity for you to influence what measures your state adopts  for assessing school performance. Attendance Works is urging states to go beyond test scores and graduation rates to include early warning indicators of academic risk, particularly chronic absence (missing 10% of school).

Across the country, schools and their community partners have found that paying attention to chronic absence is a highly effective strategy for turning around low-performing schools, because it is an easily understood, easily measured sign of progress that can provide a unifying goal for the whole community. Most districts already have the data to calculate which students are at risk due to missing too many days starting in kindergarten but need to look at the attendance numbers in a new way—concentrating less on school-wide averages and more on excessive absences for any reason–excused or unexcused.

With 28 states submitting applications next month for waivers, Attendance Works has prepared a policy brief,  Accountable for Absenteeism: 4 Ways that States Can Use Chronic Absence in NCLB Waiver Applications, outlining the best ways to use chronic absence in the application process. The brief builds off an Education Week commentary we wrote with Johns Hopkins researcher Robert Balfanz.

We hope educators, parents, community agencies and advocacy groups will take advantage of the waiver process to ensure their state adds chronic absence into the list of key indicators used to monitor and inform how schools can ensure all students have the opportunity to learn. Ultimately, states and communities need to assess rates of chronic absence to learn why schools are not performing and what is needed to turn achievement around: Are students struggling academically because what’s happening in the classroom is not meeting their needs, or because they’re not in class often enough to benefit from what school has to offer?

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