The California Department of Education (CDE)’s decision to begin collecting student attendance data from districts marks a watershed moment in tackling chronic absenteeism in the state. The new data request, paired with the release of a toolkit from California Attorney General Kamala D. Harris, are significant steps that will help districts move the needle on the state’s school absenteeism problem.
California has one of the largest student K-12 populations in the country. The most recent analysis, collected by AG Harris, estimates that 230,000 elementary school students, or 1 in 12 kids, missed more than 10% of school in the 2014-15 school year.
Although the state has collected average daily attendance data to allocate funding, the state has never collected chronic absence numbers. As a result, CDE does not have the information to know which districts and schools struggle to improve student achievement due to having large numbers of students missing 10% of the school year. Although CDE set a 90% average attendance rate as the benchmark for achieving adequate yearly progress (AYP) in 2015, data drawn from school districts in California shows that average attendance rates of 90% and even 95% can mask high levels of chronic absence.
The CDE’s decision, announced in an article in EdSource, will require districts throughout the state to tally individual student absences, and report chronic student absences by school, using the state’s current definition, of 10% or more of school days each year. CDE will begin collecting this data from districts in late spring 2017, for the 2016-2017 school year.
What does CDE’s data collection decision mean for chronic absenteeism in California? Next year, for the first time, chronic absence data will become part of the California Longitudinal Pupil Achievement Data System (CALPADS), which includes student demographics, course data, and other data for state and federal reporting. The new numbers will essentially tell the state if a child missing too much school is a barrier to ensuring that they can learn and achieve.
The data will allow California to track chronic absence even when kids move across district lines—a vital indicator because children with higher mobility are more likely to be facing challenging economic conditions that correlate with high levels of absenteeism. CDE will also be able to see if chronic absence is concentrated in particular regions, districts or schools. This will allow the state to target resources for services so critical for foster, low-income and English learning students, such as health and mental health services, transportation, and early childhood and afterschool programs, that can help address barriers to attendance.
The second significant advance on reducing chronic absenteeism in California is the Positive Parent Messaging toolkit from AG Harris, the Ad Council, and the California Endowment. The toolkit is based on a survey of 1,000 parents of chronically absent kids in elementary school. The survey found that parents do care about school attendance, but they may not understand how just two days missed each month can impact a child’s academic achievement.
The toolkit includes research, communication tools based on the research, and recommended messages that most parents can relate to, and that should inspire parents to bring their kids to school every day possible.
Now California will join the other states in the country already collecting and analyzing annual chronic absence rates. California has long been a target for advocates of data collection. The Chronic Absence and Attendance Partnership coalition, which has been pushing for the state to collect chronic absence data since its formation in 2010, applauds CDE’s decision to require schools to track chronic absences. This significant decision, combined with the Positive Parent Messaging toolkit, will go a long way towards advancing solutions to California’s school absence problem.