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:
- Be applicable to every student;
- Be capable of being disaggregated by special education and English language learner status, as well as by poverty, race/ethnicity, gender, and school level;
- Be measured the same way across the state (comparable);
- Meaningfully distinguish performance levels among schools;
- Have evidence to show that they measure what they say they are measuring (validity);
- Have evidence that results are likely to be the same if the indicator were measured again (reliability);
- Be research-based; and,
- 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, Sue@attendanceworks.org, 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