The US Department of Education invited comments on the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), signed by President Obama on Dec. 10, 2015. After reaching out to our partners for input, we submitted recommendations for the creation of guidance around the chronic absence provisions in the new law. The ESSA requires that states report chronic absenteeism rates, and allows districts to spend federal dollars on training to reduce absenteeism.
The comments encourage the DOE to create guidance that we believe will ensure the effective use of chronic absence data. You can see a summary of our comments below. Click here to read the full comments that we submitted on Jan. 21, 2016. Several partners built upon our recommendations to craft their own. You can also read the comments from California’s Attorney General.
Our comments reflect our delight that the ESSA recognizes that no one measure of success is sufficient for examining whether a school is effectively meeting the needs of its students. In particular, we appreciate the requirement that schools must report on chronic absence (missing too much school for any reason). Armed with this information, schools—often together with community partners—can help students get the additional supports they need to overcome barriers to getting to school. After all, students will only benefit from our investments in high quality instruction and teaching if they are in the classroom.
Our recommendations include:
1. Encourage districts to take an early warning approach. Advise schools to monitor when students miss 10% or more of school and use those data to trigger intervention throughout the year. Guidance should recommend that districts provide reports to schools on which and how many students are at risk of missing too much school on a weekly or bi-weekly basis, if not in real time. Timely access to such data is essential to prevention and early intervention.
2. Adopt a common 10% reporting requirement. One challenge with the 15-day measure is that it does not correspond to the 10% definition cited by other federal agencies (for example, in the newly launched Federal initiative on chronic absenteeism, Every Student, Every Day) and already being used by numerous states. Connecticut, Indiana, Iowa, Mississippi, New Jersey, Ohio, Oregon, Rhode Island, and Tennessee have already begun producing reports on how many students are missing 10% or more of school. A common reporting requirement would reduce confusion as well as allow for better comparisons across states and localities.
3. Encourage school districts to message to families about the impact of chronic absence. School districts must allocate at least 1% of Title I dollars for parent engagement. Encourage districts to use these resources to help parents understand why daily attendance matters and what steps they can take to nurture a habit of attendance as well as get help with addressing barriers to getting to school.
4. Encourage schools to incorporate attention to attendance into a multi-tiered system of support (MTSS). Such an approach will encourage schools to focus on prevention and early intervention and leverage a framework that many educators are familiar with. Title II funding could be used to support such professional development.
5. Encourage districts to identify and enlist community agencies in addressing chronic absence. Encourage districts to forge partnerships with public agencies and non-profits. Include information about how data can be shared without violating confidentiality requirements.
6. Support the inclusion of chronic absence data in school report cards. Such information is essential to helping parents understand what is happening in schools and for helping community partners identify schools in need of their resources.
7. Promote the reporting of chronic absence by grade level. Such data are critical to targeting interventions to the students who are struggling the most. Without grade level breakouts, school districts can easily overlook high levels of chronic absence starting in kindergarten and first grade. Chronic absence is typically highest in these early elementary grades, which are so critical to the development of key academic and social skills needed to succeed in school. Such patterns are easily masked when examining data for an entire elementary school, since children in the older grades typically have much better attendance.